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Aretha Franklin’s estate: What went wrong?

The “Queen of Soul” died last August. At the time of her passing, her heirs were not aware of an estate plan. Now, months after her passing, handwritten wills were recently discovered in her home.

Aretha Franklin’s estate is likely worth millions. The estate will also continue to grow, as representatives are in negotiations for television shows, movies and continuing music rights.

The issues that are present with this legend’s estate provide valuable lessons to anyone who is in a similar situation. Three examples include:

  1. Help your loved ones put together an estate plan. Those with elderly parents and loved ones are wise to encourage an estate plan. This plan serves as more than just a means to transfer assets, it provides an opportunity for these loved ones to continue their legacy in the way they want it to continue.
  2. Store the documents wisely. Part of the problem with Ms. Franklin’s estate is the fact that her heirs keep discovering new, handwritten wills. Some are in locked boxes, others in notebooks under couches. Put together a document and keep it in a safe place. Let loved ones know where it is located so there is no confusion when it is needed.
  3. Communicate. In most cases, loved ones simply want to make sure your wishes are met. Communicate these wishes clearly. A failure to do so can result in conflict between loved ones who are unsure of your wishes.

What will happen? When it comes to estate planning, state law generally governs the outcome. Ms. Franklin’s estate will likely fall within Michigan state law. Michigan is much more lenient in its requirements. The state focuses more heavily on the wishes of the decedent as opposed to the requirements needed to put together a will.

Other states have specific requirements. New York state law, for example, requires the proposed will be written, signed and witnessed.

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