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R-E-S-P-E-C-T Her Wishes

When Aretha Franklin passed away, it was widely reported that she died without an estate plan in place. Now, three hand-written documents have been discovered that seem to outline her end of life goals. Do a few notes found underneath a couch cushion count as a will? Will her family R-E-S-P-E-C-T her wishes?  

In 2018, the Queen of Soul died at the age of 76. During her lifetime she won 18 Grammys, was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and sang at Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral. 

She was a savvy business-woman who insisted on getting paid in cash upfront and owned the rights to many of her hits. But she never took the time to sit down with one of her many attorneys to draft a formal estate plan. 

When she died, everyone assumed her multi-million dollar estate would pass to her four sons through the laws of intestacy. However, three handwritten documents — found in a locked cabinet and under the sofa cushions of Franklin’s home in suburban Detroit — may change everything. 

Do these hand-written documents count as a will?

The most recent document, which is dated 2014, divides up her real property — meaning real estate — between her three younger sons, and also gives them income from Franklin’s music royalties. Her oldest son, who lives in a group home, would not receive as much. 

It is unclear how Franklin intended to divvy up other assets, such as cash. And the written documents make no mention of what assets are to be used to pay her estate taxes or the millions in back taxes she owes. 

Even if these new documents are considered a will, they leave a lot of big questions unanswered. Namely, how to manage the money still coming into the estate, and how to license and market Franklin’s work and image going forward so that it continues to generate revenue. 

The 2014 document names Franklin’s youngest son her estate administrator, but the two middle children — who were named administrators in the older documents, but whose names are crossed out in the more recent document — are already suggesting they want to take a more hands-on role. They are requesting the assistance of a handwriting analyst who can investigate whether their mother crossed their names out, or if someone else did so at a later date. 

A fight between Franklin’s children could drain the estate of valuable assets and jeopardize the family’s ability to control Franklin’s legacy. Hopefully, they can all come to an agreement that honors Franklin’s memory, and if possible, respects her end of life plans. 

Work with Your Legacy Legal Care for Your Estate Planning Needs

What the rest of us, who are not iconic singers or multi-millionaires, can take away from this is a reminder of the importance of working with an experienced estate planning attorney to craft a formal estate plan before it is too late. 

Your death will cause plenty of confusion and heartache. So, why not make it as easy on your loved ones as possible by clearly spelling out your wishes?

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