Iconic Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, passed away in her home on August 16, 2018 at the age of 76. A recent court filing in Michigan by her four sons revealed that Aretha Franklin didn’t have a will. She isn’t the first celebrity who didn’t put a will or testament documents in place before they died. Unfortunately, she’s just the most recent example – others include Prince and Amy Winehouse.
Unfortunately, legal battles over who is involved in the celebrities’ estates and how their assets are managed can last for years. Franklin’s sons have listed themselves as interested parties in the estate – worth an estimated $80 million – but because no will was left behind, a court battle could ensue between her children, extended family members and creditors. This is unfortunate because one her sons has special needs, which requires a particular method of estate planning.
According to an AARP study, only 4 in 10 American adults have a will or living trust. Those lacking an end of life plan say they just haven’t gotten around to making one. Unfortunately, none of us are immortal.
The reality is that if you are not specific about your wishes upon death, your heirs are free to disagree continually, or at least until the estate runs out of money. When a will is officially proven, or probated, the deceased’s property and assets are inventoried and appraised and then, after debts and taxes are paid, the remaining assets are distributed among the chosen heirs. If there is no will, the state directs property distribution. In this case, the State of Michigan will now decide how her assets will be dispersed.
Most people die with considerable assets that are not liquid, and heirs will undoubtedly have conflicting interests. In many states, probate is not particularly expensive or complicated, but the fights over who administers an estate and is responsible for distributing assets certainly can be. A will is an opportune chance to end any arguments before they have a chance to begin.
Having a valid will is important for every adult. It can articulate your wishes, provide for specific people, address special circumstances and minimize any drama after you pass. If you’re in or near retirement, setting up a will is an important part of the financial planning process.