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A Celebrity Estate Plan Lesson (Part 2)

In my post last week I wrote about the trial in the matter of Aretha Franklin’s estate to determine which of two handwritten wills would be admitted as her last will.  The case illustrates the reasons why everyone should have a will executed in accordance with state law and preferably typewritten and prepared by an attorney familiar with trust and estate law and the estate administration process.

Having a will prepared by an experienced attorney will greatly reduce the risk of a court battle which can be costly in terms of legal fees but also family harmony.  In Aretha Franklin’s case, it pitted 2 of her sons on one side against a third son.  That’s because the two handwritten wills that were discovered in her home differed in their terms.

For one thing, her Michigan home was left to one son and her grandchildren in her 2014 which was not the case in her 2010 will.  For another her 2010 will stipulated that her sons were required to obtain a business degree or certificate before receiving their inheritance whereas the 2014 will had no such requirement.

While the court did resolve the issue of which will controls, there are indications that the family may be back in court soon.  That’s because some parts of the will contained scribble and hard to decipher notes.  Any lack of clarity only increases the likelihood of more legal battles to come.  While Franklin’s estate includes royalties and other intellectual property from her years as a musician, that estate has declined to the point where it is estimated to be worth only a fraction of its value at the time of Franklin’s death. Legal fees and costs will only further dismiss the value.

But perhaps more than the financial cost could be the potential damage to family relationships that a poorly drafted estate plan can cause.