When the legendary singer Aretha Franklin died last August, it appeared that she had no will or other estate planning documents. Although her four sons would be her apparent heirs according to the laws of her home state of Michigan, Franklin’s niece was named as the estate’s executor.
While visiting her aunt’s home in the Detroit area this month, her niece found three handwritten wills drafted by Franklin. These wills mean even more confusion for the estate and possible conflict among her heirs. Although handwritten wills can be valid in Michigan, as in Virginia, the fact that there are three of them is problematic. Two have dates indicating they were written in 2010. Another one is dated 2014. Further, they are difficult to read.
At least two of her sons are already contesting the wills. One of them is designated in the 2014 will to be her estate’s executor, so it’s unclear whether her niece will continue in that capacity or not. According to court documents, she has already been representing the estate on “pending projects” including a movie based on Frankin’s life. The estate is also involved in litigation to recover funds that were allegedly stolen from one of the singer’s bank accounts.
The niece has asked a probate court to rule on the contents and validity of the three documents. A hearing is scheduled for next month.
It’s not clear why the “Queen of Soul” never got around to putting a proper estate plan in place. Unfortunately, procrastination is not uncommon in estate planning — even as people get older and begin to suffer from serious medical issues.
While no one enjoys contemplating a time when they won’t be around, by having an estate plan, you can save your loved ones considerable expense, time and conflicts. You can also help protect your privacy. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you draft a plan that will reflect your wishes and provide for your loved ones.