The death of high-profile movie director John Singleton has thrown the need for estate planning into sharp relief. Singleton, who passed away in Los Angeles in April 2019 at the age of 51 after a sudden stroke, left behind only a long-outdated will. As a result of this lack of planning, family members and potential heirs could be locked in a long-running dispute over the distribution of the estate, and a far smaller portion of Singleton’s assets than intended may wind up being shared among his heirs.

Many people put off making an estate plan, seeing it as something to be handled when they are older and infirm. However, a sudden health incident or even a devastating accident can tragically take a life at any time. In Singleton’s case, the director drafted an initial will in 1993 despite his young age after he first made it big with his hit film “Boyz n the Hood”. He had only one child at the time the will was made. However, by the time of his death in 2019, Singleton had five confirmed children. There were also two potential children whose paternity was not yet resolved.

Still, Singleton’s mother presented the 1993 will to the probate court and stated that the director’s assets comprised around $3.8 million, surprising observers who said that they believed his wealth to total $35 million. Singleton’s family members have already publicly differed with one another on his diagnosis and cause of death as well as the disposition of the estate.

An estate plan can help to save loved ones from a long trip through the probate courts. However, people dealing with the complex estate of a loved one may work with an attorney to navigate the probate system and aim for a fair distribution of the assets.