The 2.4 will model does not apply to all
Kate Johnson on how a melancholy year in terms of celebrity deaths was not unexpected - and how it reminds us of the importance of wills
2016 seems to be the year of celebrity deaths. David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Victoria Wood, Prince - to name but a few. Just as the public recovers from the shock of the death of another much-loved celebrity, the media is reporting one more breaking news story about the untimely passing of another household name.
The increased number is not a figment of our imagination. Reports show there has been a significant increase in the number of notable deaths: 24 in the first three months of the year, compared to five in the same period in 2012, according to one set of figures.
And it is set to increase. Why? Because there are more famous people than there used to be. An increased celebrity culture has been fuelled by developments in technology, and because the baby boom generation born between 1946 and 1964 - who saw a huge growth in population numbers and had many more opportunities for fame than previous generations - are now in their 50s to 70s.
Sadly, some of these deaths have been unexpected and others followed only a short period of ill health. In many cases there is significant wealth and complicated assets involved, such as copyright,
for example, which lasts for 70 years after death, so needs to be carefully looked after for many more years.
Everyone can benefit from having a will and keeping it up to date. But never is this more true than when there is significant wealth, complicated assets, or a family which does not fit the 'husband, wife, and 2.4 children' model. One, if not all, of these factors often applies to celebrity deaths.
Prince reportedly died without a will. His sister has therefore applied to the court for a special administrator to be appointed. The absence of a valid will not only take away the ability to choose who will be responsible for administering an estate but also who will inherit the assets and on what terms. Instead, intestacy rules apply to the estate automatically. Often the result is not consistent with what the deceased would have wished for.
Even where there is a will in place there are many factors to consider.
David Bowie is said to have used his will to set out his funeral wishes: to be cremated and for his ashes to be scattered in Bali. But not just these details have become public knowledge. Personal information, including the legacy he left to his personal assistant and the share of his estate inherited by his children, is now in the public domain.
A will, while private during life, becomes a public document after death. This is one of several reasons why we often advise that an estate is left on trust, the details of which are set out in a letter of wishes, which always remains a private document.
Michael Jackson was famously in debt at the time of his death. His estate has since earned significant sums. The management of the assets and this income will have been crucial to clearing the debts and looking after his legacy. The structure for that management and the people responsible will be governed by the will. A well-drafted will should take account of all eventualities, including an insolvent estate.
Although most people's circumstances will not mirror those of these well-known faces, lessons can still be learnt. A will is one of the most important documents you will ever sign. The terms should be carefully considered and executors with suitable skills and knowledge should be chosen. Thought should be given to how many of the details should remain private. Often, if amendments are being made, it is better to start again than amend by codicil; most people would rather not have as a matter of public record the legacies they once included in their will but then removed. And perhaps most importantly, a will should first be made as soon as you have assets or dependants, and then kept up to date throughout life.
As the headlines keep reminding us, you never know when it might be needed.