The problems with dying without a will

Rock icon Prince died at age 57. He was young and reportedly without a will. So, things could get messy, but you don't have to be rich to run into problems if you die without a will.

Survey after survey shows 60 percent of Americans don't have one.  In Prince's case, we're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars in assets and no living parents or living children that we know of. So, you see the problems here.

And if things weren't complicated enough, he has many siblings.  Now it could be easier if he was worth, say, $300 million in cash. You simply divide it and go. But that's not how things generally work for rich people or for the rest of us. In Prince's situation, it's being reported that he has a vault of unreleased music. How do you put a price tag on that? Do you release it or not? The siblings will have to decide. All of them.

Now how does this apply to me and you? Easily. Let's say you die and leave your small business - a nail salon or a body shop - to your two grown children. They could see managing this completely differently. One wants to take it over. The other wants to sell. Now you have a potential fight.

We talked to certified financial planner and real estate attorney Everette Morris who says a will would lay out how it will be divided and minimize the squabbling. Many of those folks who don't have a will - a third of them - do have minor children. A will would dictate custody arrangements.

"Regardless of how much money they have they might not want their crazy Aunt Betty to take the kids. Everyone has different parenting. And that's one issue, everybody gets stuck on - the property, 'Oh, I don't have enough money to get involved with estate planning.'"

Even when you decide who will raise your children, it's important to add something that talks about how you'd like them to be raised. It's not legally binding, but Everette Morris says, it's really helpful.

"To let whoever is taking custody of my children know that maybe it's important that my children are raised in the Catholic faith or the Jewish faith. Or, it's important to you that they remain in involved with both sides of the family. Do we come from different cultures?

So, if you don't have time yet to sit down with a lawyer, put something on paper. Get the conversation started. Go online and do something cheaply and easily. Just to get the framework done then fine tune things with an expert.