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Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin Left No Will: Why This Trend Must End

What wills are and why they’re important to asset management

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Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Here’s one celebrity trend you should avoid: having no will.

Aretha Franklin, who died Thursday in her Detroit home after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, did not have one in place, according to published reports. She was 76.

Her four sons on Tuesday filed a document with the Oakland County Probate Court in Michigan that lists themselves as interested parties in Franklin’s estate. A niece also asked the court to appoint her as personal representative of the estate.

Aretha Franklin performs on stage at the Park West Auditorium, Chicago, Illinois, March 23, 1992. 

Paul Natkin | Archive Photos | Getty Images
Aretha Franklin performs on stage at the Park West Auditorium, Chicago, Illinois, March 23, 1992.

Of course, Franklin wouldn’t be the first person to forgo plans for her assets. Nearly 60 percent of U.S. adults don’t have a will, according to Caring.com. She also isn’t the first celebrity to die without one.

While you might assume estate planning only applies to wealthy people, that’s not the case. An estate only refers to what you own: financial accounts, real estate and possessions.

Putting a plan in place for those assets helps ensure that upon your death, your wishes are carried out and that family squabbles don’t evolve into destroyed relationships.

In other words, it’s partly about making things easier for your loved ones during an already-difficult time.

Here are some basics that can go a long way toward leaving your affairs in order.

Yes, you should have a will

If you have little in the way of assets, you might think you don’t need one. Guess again.

If you pass away without it — called “dying intestate” — the legal system in your state will decide who gets your assets, no matter how massive or meager.

Worse, if minor children are left parentless and there is no will stating who you want to care for them, guess who appoints a guardian? A judge. And that’s after family members have potentially given their 2 cents.

“If no guardian is named, then it can be a free for all,” said Elise Gross, an estate-planning attorney and of counsel to the Presser Law Firm in Boca Raton, Florida. “It could be an ugly and uncomfortable situation, which is not best for the children.”

Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin at NYSE on Christmas album and possible biopic (2008)  

Choose an executor

The person you name as executor of your estate will face what can be a daunting job, so choose wisely.

Things such as liquidating accounts, ensuring your assets go to the proper beneficiaries, paying any debts not discharged (i.e., taxes owed to the IRS), and even selling your home could be among the duties undertaken by the executor.

“You want it to be someone you trust, someone who’s financially savvy enough to understand things and can deal with the beneficiaries,” Gross said. “It’s a big job.”

In other words, just because you’ve known your best friend since elementary school doesn’t mean handling the challenge of being an executor is up her alley. Same goes for a trustee, if you set up a trust.

Check account beneficiaries

People often mistakenly think that in their will, they can name who gets the money in retirement accounts, life insurance policies and the like. Wrong.

The person listed as the beneficiary on each of those accounts will get the money even if your will says otherwise.

Also, when life changes, remember to update the beneficiaries on those accounts.

More from Personal Finance:
How to avoid hidden retirement account fees
Consumers are their own worst enemy when it comes to paying down debt
Four steps to fight off high medical expenses

Create an advance health-care directive

Also known as a living will, this document outlines your wishes if you become incapacitated due to illness or injury.

Say you are on life support. Instead of a loved one making the agonizing decision whether to end all life-saving measures, your wishes would be specified in a legal record.

Assign powers of attorney

If you become incapacitated, the people you grant powers of attorney will handle your medical and financial affairs if you cannot.

Often, the person who is given this responsibility when it comes to your health care is different from whom you would name to handle your financial affairs.

As with choosing an executor, make sure whoever you hand the financial reins to is trustworthy and smart.

“This person can be messing with your assets while you’re alive,” Gross said. “You’re giving someone signficant power.”

Make a list of critical documents

While it can be hard to imagine your own death, picture your family having to search through drawers for your original will, documents regarding your bank accounts and other assets, and maybe even your Social Security number.

The best way to avoid forcing them to deal with that task on top of mourning is to leave an organized list of information that the will’s executor will need to settle your estate. Be sure this includes passwords so your online accounts can be accessed.

“I think there should be a binder that has all the information and you tell whoever is in charge where they would find it,” Gross said. “Just be careful where you put it, and don’t make any copies.”

Follow up on your plan

Life changes. And as it does, so should your will.

Couples split up, relationships change and new assets are acquired or disposed of. The person you named as your child’s guardian might have developed an unsavory lifestyle, or your executor might have passed away.

Any time a major change occurs in your life, it’s time to make sure your will reflects it. Otherwise, review it every few years.

“It’s important to at least revisit it to make sure if you’re good with how it is or see if you have changes to make,” Gross said.

Ash Exantus aka Ash Cash is one of the nation’s top personal finance experts. Dubbed as the Hip-Hop Financial Motivator, he uses a culturally responsive approach in teaching financial literacy. He is also a speaker, and bestselling author of six books. Ash has established himself as a thought leader and trusted voice with Corporate America, Colleges, Churches, and Community based organizations. Ash is best known for helping people maximize their full potentials by giving them the inspiration, tools, and resources needed to live their best lives. For more info on Ash please visit www.IamAshCash.com

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Personal Finances

Amazon Aims to Help People Build Credit + Credit Knowledge to Keep You on the Right Track

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Amazon is opening up its rewards credit cards to people with no or bad credit. The tech giant and Synchrony Financial are launching “Amazon Credit Builder” for people who don’t qualify for the company’s other reward cards. The cards will offer Prime customers 5% cash back on Amazon purchases, with the person’s credit limit equal to the size of the deposit they make before receiving their card. Since 11% of the U.S. population have credit scores below 550, the move could increase Amazon’s customer base, says CNBC.

This seems like a good move for those who are unbanked or underbanked but without being of how to manage or maintain good credit this effort might exacerbate the problem. Many people are aware of the important role the credit rating plays in their lives. However, understanding what goes into a credit score (the credit score breakdown) might present some difficulty. There are several different methods of scoring, but most lenders and banks rely on the FICO method that has been in existence since the 1980’s when it was developed by the Fair Isaac Corporation. The three prominent credit bureaus (TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax) all worked with Fair Isaac in order to come up with the FICO algorithm.

Your credit score may be any number from 300 to 850. The average American falls at about 690 which is deemed relatively good credit. However, while this score should secure you a loan, it will not get you the very best interest rates on a loan. In fact, 300-640 = Bad Credit, 641-680 = Fair Credit, 681-720 = Good Credit, and 721-850 = Excellent Credit. Excellent credit should be the aim.

Following is the credit score breakdown:

Payment History

The biggest chunk of your score (35%) is derived from your payment history. This score is influenced by how well (or not) you pay your bills on time, how many have been sent to collection agencies, bankruptcies, tax liens, etc. Keep in mind that missing a payment is worse than making a late payment and that being late or especially missing a mortgage payment is a bigger blow to your credit score than missing a credit card or utility payment.

Usage Ratio

The amount of debt you have (compared to the amount of credit you have not used) accounts for 30 percent of your score. Try not to max your credit cards out. In fact, it is recommended that you only use 25 to 50 of the credit that is available to you. A way to balance this out is to obtain more lines of credit and not use them. However, you do not want to apply for a bunch of credit cards all at once as this is marked against you. If your credit is in good standing, apply for a reputable card every six months or so and save it for a rainy day.

Length of Credit History

Fifteen percent of your credit score is based on how long you’ve established credit. This is common sense. The longer your credit history, the better your overall score will be. More data about your past leads to a more accurate prediction of your future credit worthiness.

Credit Mix

Having several types of credit will actually boost your score if they are managed well. This counts for 10 percent of the overall rating.

New Credit

As mentioned earlier, opening new credit accounts all at once will negatively affect your score in the short term. It’s also important that you are aware that your score can be lowered for too many “hard inquiries” about your status. A “hard inquiry” is one that you have authorized a lender to perform. If you are inquiring about your own score, this will not count against you.

Understanding what goes into the credit score breakdown is the first step in improving your score and what will allow you to design your score and begin you on the journey to financial freedom.

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Personal Finances

How to Raise Your Credit Scores Instantly, for Free – Experian Is Changing the Credit Game for Millions

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I’ve been a financial educator for over a decade and while many people inquire about better ways to save and budget, understanding credit is still the number one topic I teach. Credit can be a gift or a curse depending on how you use it. It can help you on your journey to financial freedom or it can keep you in a cycle of debt repayment. Understanding how your credit works is the first piece of the puzzle, but what happens when you know and understand the credit game but still can’t seem to get ahead?

Some believe credit is not necessary but the truth is that credit can sometimes be the deciding factor to your quality of life. Those who have high credit scores usually get the best rates on loans and/or have to put the least money down on high ticket purchases. On the flip side those who have a low credit score can find themselves paying higher interest rates, or worse be disqualified for basic life necessities like a job or shelter.

This is why I got excited when I heard about the Experian Boost program, that is helping millions of people across the country get the assistance they may need to take their life to the next level by getting better access to credit.

Check out the video below where I discuss the program in great detail and give you tips on how to properly manage your credit.  Simply put Experian Boost works by giving consumers credit for the utility and telecom bills they are already paying. This means your water, gas, electric, cable, and cell phone bills can all count to give you an instant boost on your credit scores.

This is an absolute game changer because for years many community based organizations have fought for better access to credit and  they asked for this exact feature for those who have opted to not use credit cards hence having a thin credit file. This not only works for those who have little credit activity but for everyone who would like an extra jump to their credit file.

The great news is that only positive payments will be factored into your credit file so boosting your score can only help you. In the rare instances were someone’s credit score goes down after boosting it, they can simply disconnect it from the Boost program and their score will go right back to where it was.

If you’re interested in seeing how Boost can help your credit score visit www.experian.com/ashcash

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Personal Finances

Serena Williams Umpire Controversy: Why Knowing (and Using the Rules) Against Financial Institutions is Important in Personal Finances

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Photo: GettyImages

Passion, as it pertains to sports, is what makes the game exciting, and when an athlete expresses that raw emotion, it makes for a more entertaining experience for the fans in the stand and viewers at home.

Unless you’re Serena Williams, then expressing emotion can cause you to lose the U.S. Open. Saturday, (Sept. 8) Naomi Osaka took the title defeating Williams, however, it was the 23 time Grand Slam Champion winner’s confrontation with umpire Carlos Ramos that made headlines.

During the final woman’s match, Ramos issued a warning to Williams over “coaching” because he thought her coach was giving her cues on the court. Williams disputed the matter stating “I don’t cheat to win, I’d rather lose.”

Ramos later gave her point penalty after she smashed her racket. She confronted him again to complain and called him a thief, to which he gave her “verbal abuse” penalty which cost her the game.

Backstage at a press conference, Williams said she hopes her expressing her emotions on the tennis court will one day be accepted among female athletes the way they are so liberally by male athletes.

“I just feel like the fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions and that want to express themselves, and they want to be a strong woman, and they’re going to be able to do that because of today. Maybe it didn’t work out for me, but it’s going to work out for the next person.”

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