Aretha Franklin and the importance of having a professionally made Will
27th July, 2023
Last week Aretha Franklin came up in a meeting I was having with a couple about making their Wills. I know what you're thinking - I had perhaps gone drastically off-piste?
Well, it’s not unheard of but on this occasion the story of Aretha’s death couldn’t have been more relevant.
Prior to attending our meeting this couple had spent the weekend meeting each of their children in person to explain exactly what they were putting in their Wills and why. These, they explained, were difficult conversations. The discomfort of discussing death, the unease of sensing an underlying disgruntlement and the exposure of opening up about matters which are usually considered private. Their motivation, however, was to protect the relationships of their children after they were gone.
This is so devastatingly not what Aretha Franklin managed to achieve in her attempts to direct her estate down to her sons. Known as the Queen of Soul, Aretha died back in 2018 leaving a purported $80 million estate, four grown up sons and two homemade Wills. The first of these homemade Wills, found in a lock cabinet, was made in 2010 and required two of her sons to complete business classes and acquire a certificate or degree before they could inherit.
The second Will was made in 2014 and found in a note book under a sofa cushion. This later Will did not make such requirements of the two sons and they, therefore, had a preference to proving the validity of the second Will. The courts eventually found the second Will to be valid and this was of substantial advantage to one of the sons who, not only escaped the requirement to undertake a bit of study, but inherited her $1.3 million home.
The sadness of this situation is that it locked three of her four sons in a legal battle against each other which lasted five years. In that time, her estate also drastically fell in value due to unpaid taxes and court fees and the saga does not necessarily end here. There is yet further potential for the case to rumble on as the 2014 Will did not cover her whole estate and therefore in some respects the 2010 Will may still be valid.
While you may not wish to tell family members about the contents of your Will, and there is no requirement to do so, this case highlights the importance of having a solicitor professionally prepare your Will.
A solicitor ensures that:
- Your Will has the effect you intend
- Your Will covers all your assets and doesn’t leave any gaps
- Any contingencies to inheriting are properly thought-out and work
- Consideration is given to the tax efficiency of your Will
- It is executed property
- It is stored property
All these factors greatly reducing the risk of a major family dispute following your death. If you would like to discuss making a Will please do get in touch.
Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.
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