A last will and testament
African-Americans tend not to do estate planning. Will the Michael Jackson estate battle inspire you to create a strong will? © alexskopje - Fotolia.com

The controversy over Michael Jackson’s estate provides a strong example of the importance of having a clear, unambiguous will. His surviving siblings’ claim that Michael’s current will is a fake has led to a public airing of the Jackson family’s dirty laundry. Apparently, their mother Katherine Jackson is “furious” that her children are contesting the will in this public manner.

theGrio: Evidence is sparse that Michael Jackson’s will is a fake

Siblings — like the Jacksons — may object to unfavorable wills for many reasons. The gifts left may be too small or nonexistent. They may disapprove of the intended beneficiary. Even though it is the legal right of the testator — or will creator — to distribute the estate how he or she pleases, surviving relatives still often seek loopholes to invalidate all or part of a will they don’t approve of.

There are a few things you can do to prevent your family from defying the contents of your last will and testament. But the first and most important step is to have a will in place. Having a will is important because it allows you, rather than indignant relatives or the government, to make important decisions about your property. You may want to leave more to some survivors than others, or you may want to leave everything to charity.

If you die intestate, meaning without a will, all of your property would go to your legal heirs with the government deciding the appropriate distribution. Intestacy is the result when the state approximates the intentions of someone who has passed away without a will. The state makes the final decisions, and assumes that one’s closest relatives should inherit, even if these relationships are strained or remote.

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Because intestacy is essentially a fallback plan in the absence of a will, only legally recognized family members can inherit.  This means no cohabitants, boyfriends or girlfriends, unrelated “cousins,” or best chums can inherit — even if they are the most beloved by the deceased.  In many intestacy will cases, a person’s next of kin turns out to be quite distant (such as a fifth cousin twice removed) or even someone unknown to the deceased. But such persons will still inherit if she or he is the closest living relative.