When singer Amy Winehouse died last July at the age of 27, she left behind an estate worth over $5 million and did not have a last will and testament. Though she died in England, the laws of the United Kingdom and the United States are very similar when it comes to people who die without leaving a Will. There is several things we can learn from the probate process in her case and how to avoid the same problem.
Lesson 1: Your inheritance choices have already been made for you.
The probate laws in the United States and United Kingdom are the same when it comes to inheritances: either you make your own choices by making a Will or you let your state’s laws make them for you. Amy Winehouse died single, without children, and left behind surviving parents. Because she didn’t have a will, the United Kingdom’s intestacy laws dictate that her property will pass to her parents. Though she had an ex-husband, and a brother, neither will receive anything. The same would be true if she had died in the United States.
Lesson 2: Not everything is covered in probate.
Though the Winehouse probate estate was worth about $5 million, that may not tell the whole story. Though it’s unlikely that Ms. Winehouse had created a trust (because she didn’t have a will and did not appear to have any kind of estate plan), she may have had a life insurance policy or other form of property that allowed for joint ownership or a designated beneficiary. This kind of property does not pass through the probate process. Because of this, many people create non-probate assets as part of their estate plans so they can avoid probate entirely.