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Probate gets even more complicated if beneficiary dies

There are countless unfortunate stories about what happens when a person passes away without leaving a will. However, each one can teach us something about why it is essential to create a will and provide guidance on what to do (or not do) in similar situations.

For instance, iconic music legend Prince passed away unexpectedly without a will. Because of this, his massive estate has been limbo since his passing nearly four years ago. And a recent development complicates the situation even more: a beneficiary has died.

Beneficiary challenges from the beginning

Because Prince did not leave a will, the courts will determine the distribution of his assets. In traditional situations, the courts would follow a legal hierarchy of distributing property to spouses, children, parents, siblings and other relatives, depending on state law. 

However, Prince was not married at the time of his death, and he had no children. Dozens of people filed petitions claiming to be related to the legend. Ultimately, though, the courts ruled that Prince's six siblings were rightful beneficiaries.

Strangers and undesirable beneficiaries

In the time it has taken for this case to work through the courts, multiple situations have come up that create new problems.

First, some of the beneficiaries have had the time to sell their share of the estate, which could be worth $100 million. Two of the siblings made a deal with an entertainment company.

Most recently, one of Prince's brothers passed away. In his will, he left his assets to one of his friends, who is a controversial figure in the entertainment industry. Now some of Prince's siblings are contesting the brother's will.

Waves of fallout

You don't have to be Prince to have wishes and property to protect. People have estates of every size, and these estates will typically go through probate unless a person takes steps to avoid it. 

When there is no will, the probate process can become combative. Further, unforeseen circumstances could continue to complicate distribution. It could become a logistical nightmare that gets worse as the process continues. When all is said and done, unintended parties could stand to inherit a significant portion of a person's property, which could be devastating.

This is another example of why creating a valid, enforceable will is crucial.

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