Aretha Franklin died of complications from pancreatic cancer on August 16, 2018.  She was not married at the time of her death, but left behind four (adult) sons.  Reports are now surfacing that Franklin died “intestate” meaning, she did not leave a Will or a Trust.  Her long-time copyright attorney confirmed that he frequently encouraged Aretha to take care of her estate planning matters, but, like most people she “never got around to it”.

Now, Franklin’s estimated $80 million fortune will be administered in a public forum: the probate court.  Franklin’s royalties, copyrights, material of other recording artists, real estate holdings, investments, personal property, like Grammy awards, gold records memorabilia, and any other asset of value will become public record as part of the probate proceeding.

Since Franklin’s place of residence was Detroit, Michigan state law will likely govern the administration of the estate.  Under Michigan law (which is similar to Arizona), if an unmarried person dies without a Will the assets will be divided equally among children.

Franklin’s sons have already filed court documents listing themselves as interested parties.  Franklin’s niece has asked the Court to be named the executor of the estate.  With such a high profile decedent and complicated assets, it is anticipated that this case will take years to administer.  As a point of reference, Michael Jackson died in 2009 and it is anticipated that his estate will not be fully administered until 2019 or 2020.  The estates of musicians Bob Marley (who died in 1981) and Jimi Hendrix (who died in 1970) lasted 30+ years, largely due to complex copyright and licensing issues.

Not only will the estate administration be lengthy and public, but by not preparing an estate plan, Franklin missed several tax saving opportunities.  It is anticipated that nearly half of the songstress’ worth will paid out to taxes.

Had Franklin gotten around to creating an estate plan, probate could have been avoided, her heirs would have maintained a sense of privacy and mitigated the change of litigation.

Don’t be like Aretha Franklin, plan your estate! If you have questions on how to create your estate plan, contact the attorneys at Bivens & Associates, P.L.L.C.

– By Rachel Zaslow, Esq.