“Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin died from pancreatic cancer at age 76 on August 16th at her home in Detroit. Like Prince, who died in 2016, Franklin was one of the greatest musicians of our time. Unfortunately, also like Prince she died without a will or trust to pass on her multimillion-dollar estate. Franklin’s lack of estate planning was a huge mistake that will undoubtedly lead to lengthy court battles and major expenses for her family.
A common mistake
Such lack of estate planning is common, as shown by a 2017 poll by the senior-care referral service, Caring.com, which revealed that more than 60 percent of U.S. adults currently do not have a will or trust in place. The most common excuse given for not creating these documents was simply “not getting around to it.”
No matter the reason, Franklin’s estimated $80-million estate has no planning in place and will now have to go through the often-lengthy court process known as probate. Because Franklin was unmarried and died without a will, Michigan law stipulates that her assets are to be equally divided among her four adult children, one of whom has special needs and will need financial support for the rest of his life. It’s likely that caregivers for her son will need to decide whether to accept the inheritance coming to him and lose all governmental support he may’ve been able to receive, or they may have to disclaim all of the inheritance from his mother’s estate.
It’s also possible that probate proceedings could last for years due to the size of her estate and all court proceedings will be public, including any disputes that arise along the way. Such contentious court disputes are common with famous musicians. In Prince’s case, his estate has been subject to numerous family disputes since he died two years ago and that even led to the revocation of a multimillion-dollar music contract. The same thing could happen to Franklin’s estate, as high-profile performers often have complex assets, like music rights.
Because these court battles will be public, not only will the contents of Franklin’s estate be available for everyone to see, but her family’s potential squabbles will likely be the subject of news headlines. All of these things could’ve been prevented with a well-drafted and counseled estate plan.
Learn from Franklin’s mistakes
Although Franklin’s situation is unfortunate, you can learn from her mistakes by beginning the estate planning process now. To keep everything private and out of court altogether, Franklin could’ve created a will and a trust. Within a trust, she could have created a Special Needs Trust for her child would benefit from it, thereby giving him full access to governmental support plus supplemental support from her assets.
While trusts used to be available only to the wealthy, they’re now used by people of all incomes and asset values. Unlike wills, trusts keep your family out of the probate court, which can save both time, money, and a huge amount of heartache. Plus, a properly funded trust keeps everything totally private. Trusts also offer several protections for your assets and family that wills alone don’t. With a trust, for example, it’s possible to shield the inheritance you’re leaving behind from the creditors of your heirs or even a future divorce.
Finally, if you have a child with special needs like Franklin did, a Special Needs Trust can prevent your child from losing eligibility for important government benefits, like Medicaid and Social Security. A Special Needs Trust—also not subject to probate—allows you to contribute funds for your child’s care without disqualifying them for these benefits.
Don’t wait another day
Don’t follow in Franklin’s footsteps; use her death as a learning experience. Proper estate planning can keep your family out of conflict, out of court, and out of the public eye. If you’re ready to create a comprehensive estate plan, meet with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®. If you already have a plan in place, we can review it to ensure it is effective and up to date. Contact us today for more information.
This article is a service of Levi Alexander, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.