Aretha Franklin: Estate Planning Mistakes

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, had a career spanning nearly 60 years, releasing 38 studio albums and 6 live albums. Despite her fame, her estate planning caused controversy after her death. She left behind two wills that led to a legal battle among her four sons, highlighting the importance of careful estate planning.

Two Wills Cause Confusion

When Aretha Franklin passed away in 2018, it was initially thought she had no will, leaving her estate up to state law. However, her niece, serving as the personal representative of the estate, found two handwritten wills in Franklin’s Michigan home. One will, dated 2010, was in a locked cabinet, and the other, dated 2014, was in the couch cushions. These wills had different instructions for dividing her real estate, personal property, and music royalties among her sons, causing disagreements.

Franklin’s sons disagreed on which will should control the estate. Both listed many assets but lacked a lawyer’s preparation or witnesses. This led to a probate court case. After a two-day trial, a jury decided that the 2014 will should serve as Franklin’s official will.

Lessons in Estate Planning

Aretha Franklin avoided dying without a will, but her estate planning still caused problems. Here are some key lessons:

  • Let Loved Ones Know Where Documents Are: A will must be found and verified to take effect. Make sure family members know where to find the will and other important documents. Store them securely in a safe deposit box, fireproof safe, or encrypted cloud storage. Provide access codes to those who need them, and consider giving copies to an estate planning attorney or trusted friend.
  • Avoid Keeping Multiple Versions: Only one will is valid in probate. The most recent will typically prevails. To avoid confusion, destroy old documents when creating new ones.
  • Handwritten Wills May Be Valid, But Not Ideal: Handwritten wills are valid in many states, but they must meet specific criteria. Work with an attorney to ensure the will is legally prepared and executed.
  • Make Intentions Clear: Ensure all paperwork aligns to prevent conflicts and confusion.

The Importance of Professional Estate Planning

Estate planning is crucial, not just for the rich and famous. Aretha Franklin’s story shows what can happen when planning is left to the last minute or not done with an attorney’s help. A professionally prepared estate plan can prevent conflicts, court battles, and drained assets. For professional estate planning assistance, reach out to schedule a meeting with our experienced attorneys.