I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from the radio. It was so shocking that I wanted to pull the car to the side of the road to take it all in.
This was not the news that Prince, the legendary pop music star, had died. This was a few days later. This was the news that he had died without a will. The guy was worth millions and left no instructions about his estate, including the vast library of his music that will produce income into the future. This is an artist who was meticulous about how his music was used and how his image was projected, yet he did seemingly nothing to continue that concern after his death.
There are various speculations about why Prince might have failed to leave a will, and I use the word “failed” intentionally. At age 57, he was old enough to know better. And so it is possible he intentionally chose not to leave a will. But it also is possible he just didn’t get around to it. We may never know.
But here’s the place where Prince turned out to be just like a majority of regular Americans: More than half of Americans die without a will, according to the American Bar Association.
Here are five reasons why people don’t make wills and a rebuttal for each. If you’re someone who does not have a will or does not have an updated will, please keep reading.
1. “I’m not going to die.” OK, so maybe only a few people really believe that. But more people than you’d think act like this is what they believe. Humanity has a 100 percent mortality rate. Let’s compare the numbers: On the one hand, 100 percent of people know they are going to die. On the other hand, more than half of these people make no preparation for their financial affairs upon death.
2. “I don’t have enough assets to need a will.” If you have so much as a bank account, you have enough assets to need a will. And particularly if you have people who are dependent upon you in any way — children, parents, friends — you need a will. There is no minimum asset requirement for writing a will. You do not have to be a member of a country club or a select society.
3. “I just don’t want to think about it.” Few of us do want to think about our own mortality. And yet for Christians, this never should be a hurdle. If we truly believe what we say, we have hope in the resurrected life and we know that Jesus has power over death. We’ve got to talk about death. The Bible says it plainly: There is no resurrection without death. So let’s talk about it.
4. “I’ll do it later, maybe when I’m older.” This reminds me of when I’m going to clean off the workbench in my garage that’s piled high with tools and hardware and tape and wires. First, it was when the boys got off to college. Then it was when the weather got warmer. Then it was when the weather got cooler. Then it was when I had cleared out Mother’s estate. Then it was …. And that workbench still looks like a pile of rubble. Most people who put off writing a will keep putting it off. Once you’re an adult, or once you have assets of any kind, you’re never too young to need a will. And once you start having children, there is no reasonable excuse for not having a will.
5. “Having a will won’t make any difference.” Here’s where I hope you’ll turn around your thinking. The reality is that you can make a difference by leaving a will. You can do something good, regardless of the size of your estate. Most parents want to leave money to their children, which is noble and good. But think about this: While living, are you devoting all your assets to your children? What about the causes and institutions you hold dear in life? Would you consider making a perpetual gift to these? Let’s say you’re a church member and you tithe. Did you know it is possible to keep tithing in your death? Let’s say you’re a proud alumnus of a university and you never can respond to the fund-raising appeals that come around like clockwork. In your death, you likely can support the institutions that nurtured you. Or let’s say other people have shown you immense kindness and you’ve never had a way to repay them. Naming them in your will — even in some small way — is a thank you that will bear fruit for years to come.
A few days after I heard the news about Prince dying without a will, a widower friend dropped by my office for an impromptu visit. He wanted to inquire about making a special gift to the church because he had just been notified he was receiving an inheritance out of the blue. This news was welcome to him because his own income had been reduced after his wife’s death. The distant relative who had quietly named this friend of mine in a will created a domino effect of good: a relative was blessed and, in turn, the church will be blessed. But those good things only happened because someone took the time to make a will.
Like Prince, we’re all going to die. Let’s be better prepared to do some good in the world than he was.