Estate Planning Lessons to Be Learned From the Passing of Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin, a.k.a. the Queen of Soul, died August 16, 2018. She influenced millions through her music and civic actions. She was a longtime resident of Michigan, where she lived until her death. Aretha Franklin left behind four adult sons, and unfortunately for them, she did not have a will or trust. Her estate has been widely estimated to be worth currently about $80 million, and under Michigan law, her four sons will divide the estate equally among themselves.

One of the biggest reasons a person, especially someone in a financial position like
Aretha, should have a trust is for the added privacy it provides. If a person has only a will or nothing at all in place, the estate would go through probate. One of the worst things about the probate process is that it is all public record, and available to anyone’s eyes. A trust would have ensured that the nature of her assets be kept private because it avoids probate, and not put on public display.

Unfortunately for her family, Aretha Franklin never had a will or trust drafted, which will result in her entire estate going through probate. Probate is notoriously time consuming and expensive to navigate, especially for an estate worth an estimated $80 million. For Aretha Franklin’s Estate, dividing her assets equitably among her four sons will be very time consuming and costly because of its valuable assets, and the complexity of the rights to her music, royalties, real estate, and many other avenues of income. A validly executed estate plan, using a trust properly, could have saved years and countless dollars by avoiding probate for the administration of her large estate.

While it is still early, and no one knows for sure how long it will take for Aretha’s estate to get settled, there are lessons to be learned. First, at the very top of your list should be not putting your estate planning on the back burner. Aretha’s attorney has said that he repeatedly suggested that she have a trust and a will, but she just never got around to it.

Another sad lesson is that Aretha could have better provided for friends and family if she had a will or trust. It is possible that she was happy with only her sons getting her assets, but had she drafted a will or trust, she could have included other close friends and family, or even charities. However, because she did not have a will or trust, the State of Michigan will now decide who gets what. Unless you want to have your state of residency decide who gets what, make sure you have a will or trust drafted that accurately reflects your wishes.

While Aretha Franklin was loved by many, and her music will live on, she did not do her family any favors by neglecting her estate planning. Had she done so, she may have wanted to include friends and family in her estate plan, saved the estate the costly time and money associated with probate, and decreased the chance that her sons may damage their relationships over what assets each son gets. If you want to make sure that your estate is properly planned, your assets are accounted for, and your loved ones will not have to endure the stress of probating your estate, call Bill Hesch, attorney, CPA, and financial planner today.

Bill Hesch is a CPA, PFS (Personal Financial Specialist), and attorney licensed in Ohio and Kentucky who helps clients with their financial and estate planning.  He also practices elder law, corporate law, Medicaid planning, tax law, and probate in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky areas.  His practice area includes Hamilton County, Butler County, Warren County, and Clermont County in Ohio, and Campbell County, Kenton County, and Boone County in Kentucky.

(Legal Disclaimer:  Bill Hesch submits this blog to provide general information about the firm and its services.  Information in this blog is not intended as legal advice, and any person receiving information on this page should not act on it without consulting professional legal counsel.  While at times Bill Hesch may render an opinion, Bill Hesch does not offer legal advice through this blog.  Bill Hesch does not enter into an attorney-client relationship with any online reader via online contact.)