Aretha Franklin performs on stage in New York City on November 7, 2017.
Dimitrios Kambouris | Getty Images Entertainment | fake images
A jury determined which of Aretha Franklin’s two wills was valid
A will is a legal document that details your wishes for your property and assets after your death. In other words, explain who gets your stuff and in what amounts. Parents with minor children may also designate a legal guardian for their children.
You also name an executor in your will to make sure your wishes are carried out.
If someone dies without a legal will, it means they die “intestate.” Each state has laws that determine how property in an estate is divided in those circumstances.
Franklin did not have a formal typewritten will. Instead, he wrote down his wishes on two handwritten wills – one dated 2010 and one dated 2014. Both were discovered at Franklin’s Detroit home months after the Queen of Soul’s death from pancreatic cancer in 2018.
The 2014 will was found in a notebook under a sofa cushion, and the 2010 document was found in a locked cabinet.
Franklin, who died at age 76, had four children. The legal dispute over the inheritance was among their childrenwho disagreed over which handwritten will should govern their mother’s estate.
One son, Ted White II, thought the 2010 will should control the estate, while two other sons, Kecalf Franklin and Edward Franklin, favored the 2014 document, according to the Associated Press.
There are differences between the documents. For example, the 2014 version says that Kecalf Franklin and his grandchildren would get her mother’s main home in Bloomfield Hills, valued at $1.1 million when she died, according to the AP. However, the 2010 version splits the house evenly between White and Kecalf Franklin.
Both wills seem to indicate that the children would share the income from music and royalties.
Certain states like Michigan recognize handwritten wills, also known as holographic wills, as valid if they meet specific criteria, said Charlie Douglas, a certified financial planner and president of HH Legacy Investments in Atlanta.
Generally, the most recent will takes precedence over an older one, Douglas said.
“There are too many ways it could go wrong,” Behrendt said of writing a do-it-yourself will. “This [proceeding] it will be spoken in the law schools of all the states of the country.
“That’s why you don’t want to do it on a notepad,” he added.
A will supersedes in some cases, such as with beneficiary designations on retirement accounts, Douglas said.
That can also happen if a decedent owns property in a “joint tenancy,” in which two or more people own the property jointly, Douglas said. Let’s say a married couple owns a jointly held investment account. This legal arrangement dictates that the surviving spouse inherits the account, taking precedence over language in a will, Douglas said.
“You also have to look at how their assets are titled,” Douglas said. “Because the will may or may not control [them].”
When someone dies, the executor files their will with the court as part of a “probate” proceeding. The will and its contents become a matter of public record, Behrendt said.
People who would like to keep the details of their estate plan private, especially celebrities and wealthy individuals, may prefer to use a trust, Behrendt said. Using a revocable trust is essentially the same as a will, but allows you to bypass the courts, she said.