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Don’t Follow Queen of Soul: Why Aretha Franklin’s Estate Plan Meant Disaster For Her Family

Aretha Franklin estate plan
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Estate planning is perhaps the area of tax practice where one must consider the whole.

The new bio pic called “Respect” traces 20 years of the life of Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul and the number one singer of all time (at least according to Rolling Stone magazine).

But this mega-talented singer and larger-than-life superstar failed to plan for her death. Her estate plan left her grown children fighting over her assets.

Where did Aretha Go Wrong?

Aretha died in 2018. When she passed, all evidence pointed to the fact that she had no will.

She had four sons from either three or four fathers. Their ages spanned 15 years. The oldest, born when Aretha was 12, has special needs and lives in a group home. The sons – in birth order, Clarence, Edward, Ted, and Kecalf – agreed to a friendly and equal split of the estate. Michigan law supported this. They designated a cousin, Sabrina, as the executor.

This was good, until Sabrina started finding wills. There were two from 2010 and one from 2014. They were all in Aretha’s handwriting, the last one in a spiral notebook found under cushions of a sofa.

Is A Handwritten Will Good Enough?

Michigan law permits an entirely handwritten will and even allows a will to be unsigned, if it clearly shows the decedent’s wishes.

Aretha’s 2014 will (the one in the spiral notebook) first named the three younger sons as co-executors.  Aretha then crossed out all names but Kecalf. Ted and an attorney appointed to represent Clarence challenged Kecalf’s competence to serve as Aretha’s executor.

Then Aretha’s Estate Plan (Or Lack Thereof) Got Even Messier

But wait! A fourth will was found. That one was actually typed and established a trust for Clarence. Aretha initialed some pages, but she didn’t sign it.

At that point, Sabrina gave up and resigned as Aretha’s executor.

Enter: The Dreaded Probate Court

The probating of Aretha’s estate went from a friendly division of assets to a hot mess. The sons were now “playing games that they can score,” and wondering if Aretha stopped to think what she was trying to do to them.

The Probate Court judge appointed Aretha’s friend Reginald Turner, who recently was named President of the American Bar Association, as temporary estate representative.

Nearly ten years after Aretha Franklin’s death, her sons continue to fight over her assets.

Aretha’s estate has a lot of issues. Don’t be like the Queen. Get your estate plan set and revise it, as needed, with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.



Photo via Flickr.