What was the Fate of the Aretha Franklin Estate?

Aretha Franklin
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The estate of Aretha Franklin took years to settle.

Communication is essential in various aspects of life.

Spouses with poor communication can quickly grow apart and find resentment building.

Inadequately outlined procedures and structures can be the bane of businesses.

Failing to share about estate planning wishes can lead to costly court battles.


According to a recent CNBC article titled “Longtime Aretha Franklin estate battle shows the importance of having a proper will,” this was the issue with the estate of Aretha Franklin.

Aretha Franklin had two handwritten wills.
One handwritten will of Aretha Franklin was found in the cushions of her couch.

Upon her death in 2018, nobody knew whether she had an estate plan.

Without a valid last will and testament, Aretha would have died intestate, and her assets would have been distributed through probate according to the laws of her state of residence at death.

Eventually, two handwritten wills were discovered in her home.

Because Aretha Franklin died in Michigan, these holographic wills could be legally valid.

They would not be in either Kansas or Missouri.

The courts were responsible for determining whether the last will from 2010 or 2014 would be the one followed to distribute her estate.

If these last wills of Aretha Franklin stated the same wishes, there would be less of an issue.

Instead, the differences were significant and led to an estate battle between her four sons.

Ultimately, the jury ruled in favor of the latter 2014 last will being the legally binding document.

Although new estate planning documents are typically given precedence over older drafts, those who create handwritten wills or attempt to do their estate planning on their own can quickly find their estates in trouble.

Like most Americans, Aretha Franklin would have benefited from working with an experienced estate planning attorney to create her last will.

The result would have been a speedier estate settlement, lower court costs to her estate, and less resentment and conflict among her children.

Those who do not have a last will in place cannot designate a legal guardian for their minor children (in most jurisdictions), provide instructions for the distribution of assets, or select an executor to administer the estate.

In conjunction with a last will, how assets are titled impacts their ultimate distribution.

Titling assets in joint tenancy and utilizing beneficiary designations allow the surviving owner and designated beneficiary to inherit an asset immediately.

By creating a trust and either titling assets to the trust now or designating the trust as the postmortem beneficiary, assets can be distributed by the trustee outside of probate according to the directions in the trust document.

Trusts can also protect privacy because they need not be submitted to the probate court to become public records in most jurisdictions.

Contact an experienced estate planning attorney to get your affairs in order if you do not have an estate plan.

Your family will appreciate and R-E-S-P-E-C-T you for doing so!

ReferenceCNBC (July 11, 2023) “Longtime Aretha Franklin estate battle shows the importance of having a proper will”

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