The trial over the Queen of Soul’s handwritten wills is over. The jury’s decided that the 2014 will, secreted under a couch cushion, is the valid will. The title of a recent article from CNBC says it all: “Longtime Aretha Franklin estate battle shows the importance of having a proper will.” You need a will and an estate plan, even if you’re not a celebrity.
Aretha Franklin died in 2018; at first, no one even knew she had a will. Two handwritten wills then were found. Franklin was a resident of Michigan, where handwritten or “holographic” wills are legally permissible. Missouri does not recognize holographic wills. All wills must be attested to by two or more competent witnesses. A handwritten will that is properly witnessed by two witnesses can be valid.
Everyone needs a will, a legal document detailing their wishes to distribute assets and property upon death. Parents with minor children use wills to nominate a legal guardian for their children, and the will is also used to name an executor to be in charge of carrying out the directions in the will.
When someone dies without a will, they have passed “intestate.” When this happens, state law dictates how an estate is distributed.
Franklin had two handwritten wills, one in 2010 and the second in 2014. Both were found in her Detroit home months after her death. She had four sons, and the legal dispute was between her sons, who disagreed over which handwritten will should govern her estate. There were significant differences between the documents.
The more recent will generally take precedence over an older one. However, a handwritten will can go wrong in many ways. The lengthy estate battle over Franklin’s will exemplifies why everyone needs a properly prepared will.
Some assets don’t pass through the will, such as those with beneficiary designations. If property is owned in “joint tenancy,” where two or more people own property together, the surviving party inherits the property.
How assets are titled governs their distribution. For instance, assets held in a trust are owned by the trust, and the trustee will distribute assets according to the language in the trust.
When someone dies, the executor presents the will to the court as part of a probate proceeding. The will and its contents become a matter of public record. Anyone who wants to see the will can, which is why many people prefer to use trusts, which are private.
If you don’t have a will, consider meeting with an estate planning attorney, and start the process. If your will is over five years old, it’s likely time for an update.
Reference: CNBC (July 11, 2023) “Longtime Aretha Franklin estate battle shows the importance of having a proper will”