Aretha Memorial

What Aretha Franklin’s Estate Planning Tells Us

Aug 28th 2018
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The Queen of Soul could sing with the best of them, but when it came to planning her estate and leaving a will it was not so good.

When Aretha Franklin died Aug. 16 in Detroit from advanced pancreatic cancer, she left no will or trust though her estate’s estimated value is about $80 million and that includes rights to several of the songs that she made famous.

Now, according to reports in, the Detroit Free Press  and the New York Times, her four sons -- Clarence, Edward and KeCalf Franklin, and Ted White Jr. — listed themselves as “interested parties.” One son, KeCalf Franklin, checked a box indicating that “the decedent died intestate,” meaning without a will.

According to the Times, the sons apparently nominated Franklin’s niece, Sabrina Owens, to be the estate’s personal representative, someone akin to being the executor. Franklin’s funeral is set for this week in Detroit. Her body will lie in state on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and on Thursday at New Bethel Baptist Church. A private funeral is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 31 at Greater Grace Temple.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Franklin’s long-time entertainment lawyer Don Wilson (the estate’s lawyer is David Bennet) said he had tried to get her to complete a trust for years. “It would have expedited things and kept them out of probate and kept things private,” Wilson said. “I just hope [Franklin's estate] doesn’t end up getting so hotly contested. Any time they don't leave a trust or will, there always ends up being a fight.”

According to the Times, Bennett was unavailable for comment. What’s more, if Franklin had no will or estate, why did she have an estate attorney? But the Times’ article doesn’t address that issue.

Known for being fiercely private, Franklin often demanded cash before live performances, and kept the money in a purse that was nearby her onstage, according to the Times’ article, which cites a reference to a profile of Franklin in the New Yorker[linkto]

Franklin wasn’t alone in dying without a will or estate documents. According to the Times, Robin Williams’ three kids and third wife are wrangling over his estate. And singer Prince also did not leave a will regarding the disposition of his studio complex in Minnesota, the paper reported.

We’re thinking the message here is pretty simple: Clients should do what they can to hire the best estate planner they can afford. It’s actually less expensive than they’d think.

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