Many of us are prone to procrastination. We wait to file our taxes until the last possible day. We wait to put the garbage can out until we hear the “beep-beep” of the garbage truck working its way up the street. We procrastinate gift shopping until the night before the gift is needed. Unfortunately, many of us procrastinate creating an estate plan until it’s too late. According to a recent survey, an astonishing 55 percent of American adults pass away without any kind of will.

One of the greatest estate plan procrastination stories of our time involves billionaire Howard Hughes. The battle over Howard Hughes’s estate lasted for 34 years. Hughes died in 1976 and the distribution of his estate was not resolved until 2010! How could any estate take 34 years to settle? The answer is very simple: Howard Hughes died intestate. This means he died without a will or any kind of estate plan. The distribution of his massive estate became the responsibility of a probate court. The court had to weigh claims to his assets by various relatives, ex-wives, business partners, and other acquaintances. Further complicating matters were large amounts of land and property holdings existing in Hughes’s name. There also existed countless fraudulent wills and claims against the Hughes estate that had to be investigated for their validity.

Many may view this as an extreme example of passing away without any kind of estate plan. Nonetheless, what happened to Howard Hughes’s estate can happen to all of us. If we procrastinate getting our estates in order, years may go by until our families reap the benefits of our estates.

For additional reading on estate planning:

When is the Right Time to Engage in Estate Planning

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