Aretha Franklin’s Estate Battle Illustrates The Importance of Preparing a Proper Estate Plan

Aretha Franklin EstateOn July 11, 2023, a Jury in Michigan determined that a handwritten will found in the iconic singer’s couch after her demise was valid putting to rest a four-year litigation over the estate.

Aretha Franklin’s reported net worth at the time of her death was estimated at $80 million. Now, the estate estimates its assets are less than $6 million, including intellectual property rights such as music royalties, as well as cash, jewelry and property.

Aretha Franklin died in 2018 following a battle with pancreatic cancer. As reported by NBC
News, Franklin’s longtime entertainment lawyer had advised the singer to have a valid will and
trust prepared prior to her demise which could have avoided the estate battle.

Originally, it was thought that the singer had not prepared an estate plan at all. However, since
then, two handwritten wills were discovered, and it has been an all-out war between her children
over the estate since.

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Open PDF of Aretha Franklin’s found will.

Not only was the estate in limbo for four years, delayed by the pandemic and slowed by litigation, but the parties have likely spent tens of thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands, in litigation of this matter through trial.

In California, a handwritten or “holographic” will is a handwritten document that does not require all the normal formalities of a will. These handwritten wills are valid in California so long as they meet certain requirements; it must be written by the testator and signed by them before death. A handwritten will does not have to be witnessed nor notarized to be valid.

In the underlying litigation of the Franklin estate, the singer had prepared a 2010 handwritten
draft of her will that was found in a locked box and a 2014 handwritten will was found in the singer’s couch after her death. The 2014 handwritten will was significantly different then the 2010 draft. The primarily differences between the two documents were the ultimate distribution of the estate assets as well as control over the administration of the estate.

Following a short trial, a jury deliberated for less than an hour and found that the 2014 handwritten will was valid.

Years of litigation, hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees could have been avoided had
Aretha Franklin prepared a proper estate plan.

Regardless of the size of your estate, we at Grismer|Patterson, LLP care about our clients and the legacies they leave behind. We offer free consultations for new estate plans as well as for review of previous estate plans. Many of our clients elect to schedule an annual check-up, but we
recommend reviewing your estate plan with an attorney at least every three years.

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