Aretha Franklin: A Little Estate Planning Can Go a Long Way

If you are from Metro Detroit, you have likely already heard of the recent court battles that are being fought over the late Aretha Franklin’s estate. The most recent court hearing featured multiple factions of her family vying for control of the late singer’s substantial estate, which was eventually placed under the supervision of the Oakland County (Michigan) Probate Court.

The recent hearing exposed multiple issues in Aretha’s estate, including:

  • The singer died “intestate,” meaning that she did not have a recorded last will and testament at the time of her death

  • The discovery of not one, not two, but THREE different hand-written wills, after her death

  • A potentially large tax bill of up to 40% on estates assets in excess of $11 million dollars (her estate is valued at around $80 million dollars)

  • Almost $1 million in uncashed checks, some dating back as far as 2012

  • $178,000 “stolen” in a bank fraud scheme

  • How her estate will handle and distribute her future earnings, as the star’s estate is still collecting a substantial amount of income from royalties and copyrights

Each of these issues could have been prevented or at least less problematic if Aretha had simply created a trust for her estate, prior to her death. One of Aretha’s attorneys is quoted as recently saying “I was after her for a number of years to do a trust. It would have expedited things and kept them out of probate and kept things private.”

Now, various groups of Aretha’s family members, including her 4 sons, a niece, and an ex-husband, are locked in a legal battle that is quickly taking a nasty twist. This type of situation can not only tear a family apart, but could have been largely prevented if the Queen of Soul had listened to her attorney and created a legal instrument, known as a revocable living trust. This type of trust, along with other similar types of trusts, creates a plan for who gets your money, possessions, and even your pets, when you pass on.

In addition to providing your family with a plan for what happens to your belongings when you die, a trust also accomplishes a few other important tasks that can make dealing with your loss both less stressful and less likely to cause division and negative emotions among your family and friends:

  • A trust avoids probate court, while a will does not

  • May reduce or eliminate the amount of estate tax due to the government

  • Keeps your family matters private and not available on the public record

  • A trust allows you plan for your own care, in the event you are incapacitated

While a trust might not make sense for everyone, talking to an estate planning attorney to determine what may be the most appropriate steps for you personally is the first step towards preserving your family’s relationships with one another after you are gone.