It’s time to revisit the Estate of Aretha Franklin. Ms. Franklin passed away in August 2018 without a will. But wait – new information has come to light about multiple wills that Ms. Franklin wrote before she died. According to news reports, the Queen of Soul left two hand-written wills from 2010 in a locked cabinet, the key to which was only recently discovered. Another hand-written will from 2014 was found under the sofa cushion. (Cue the immediate search of sofa cushions throughout the Bay Area.) To be clear – the space underneath sofa cushions is not a recommended space to store wills or any other document. (This area is exclusively reserved for lint, miscellaneous change, and your pent-up resentments about your family.)
So what does this mean for her children and the beneficiaries who may be named in the will?
When a person dies intestate (without a will), probate law dictates who the beneficiaries of the estate will be. This is based purely on blood relationship. Until the discovery of the three wills, it was widely assumed that Ms. Franklin’s children would be equal beneficiaries of her estate.
With the discovery of the multiple wills, the entire probate process will likely grind to a halt while the court determines if the wills were actually written by Ms. Franklin, if they are valid under Michigan law (some formalities must be observed even with a hand-written will), and which will is valid. Most often, the will that was written last (if valid) will carry the most weight.
All of this will play out in public. There have already been objections to the wills filed by Aretha’s children. Any contract negotiations for media deals that would generate revenue for the estate are now in limbo, including a reported deal for a biopic on Aretha’s life.
It may seem that these scenarios only happen with the rich and famous. But multiple wills, confusing directions, and a general lack of planning are all too common. So clear out anything under the sofa (the vacuum hose attachment works great for that lint!), decide on your wishes for your estate, and visit your friendly neighborhood qualified estate planning attorney today.