Aretha Franklin’s Will Hidden in the Couch Cushions

Aretha Franklin’s Will Hidden in the Couch Cushions

Last year, many speculated on why Aretha Franklin did not have estate plans in place though she likely knew her end was quickly approaching from pancreatic cancer. The family and her attorney believed there was no will, so the disposition of her complex estate was going to be handled based on the laws of intestacy.

Garden State Trust Company speculated also in our blog post, The Queen of Soul: Aretha Franklin, that highlighted what was then known about Aretha Franklin’s finances and estate at the time.

Three “holographic” wills were submitted to the probate court last month – “holographic” means written in one’s own hand – usually without advice of an attorney. As strange as having no will may have been, the recently surfaced will found in a notebook hidden under couch cushions with sections crossed-out may be stranger still. Nevertheless, Michigan is a state that recognizes holographic wills, based on the conditions that they are written in the person’s own handwriting and are signed, so it may be determined that the instructions are legitimate.

Take a look at some of the pages in this article from the Detroit Free Press, along with additional information of some of the instructions that were left.

Two of Aretha Franklin’s sons are contesting the new wills, and a hearing on the estate is scheduled for June 12th.

The earlier speculation that Ms. Franklin may have been satisfied with Michigan’s intestacy laws and felt no need for estate planning seems unlikely now, and to an even greater degree than before demonstrates how a little expense earlier on through estate planning could have reduced a great deal of cost and confusion down the line. She should have told her family about the will. Had Ms. Franklin utilized trust services in her estate planning, she could have achieved additional benefits such as a greater degree of family privacy, as well.

Sidenote: What if it were in New Jersey?

Not all states permit holographic or handwritten wills. The majority of states do, but they vary in their requirements to have legal effect.

New Jersey’s law regarding holographic wills is written about here: 2013 New Jersey Revised Statutes Title 3B – ADMINISTRATION OF ESTATES–DECEDENTS AND OTHERS Section 3B:3-2 – Execution; witnessed wills; writings intended as wills.

Because Aretha Franklin’s recently discovered wills did not have any witnesses or witness’ signatures, it would need be demonstrated that it was written and signed in her own hand, something the court in Michigan is also looking into and which has not yet been verified as of this writing.

Given the difficulty in deciphering the handwritten notes in the 2014 will, it’s possible it would not be valid in any case.

So – the result in Michigan is likely to be the same as it would have been in New Jersey, but a great deal of uncertainty that could have been avoided should a traditional will have been utilized.

Garden State Trust Companies’ estate planning professionals would be pleased to elaborate on how to ensure a smooth wealth transition and achieve your estate planning goals.