When a celebrity dies, New Yorkers are often curious to know whether the deceased person’s estate planning was up to date, what is the size of the estate and who will inherit what. With the passing of Aretha Franklin last August, it was at first reported that she died without a will. However, it has since been noted that three separate wills, with different dates, were discovered among the belongings of the “Queen of Soul.” Now, the question is, which of those wills, if any, will be deemed valid under the laws of the state in which she resided.
Of the three wills, two were dated in 2010 and discovered where they were locked away in a cabinet. The third will has a 2014 date, and it was found in the singer’s lounge, underneath the cushions of a couch. Reportedly, deciphering the wills will be challenging, and Franklin’s niece, who represents the estate, has asked the court to determine whether any of the wills are valid. She says the legal counsel for two of Franklin’s sons have already indicated that they intend to contest the wills.
Another uncertainty is the role of the niece as representative of the estate because the most recent will nominates the niece’s son as executor. It appears as if finding the three wills only served to complicate matters more, and Franklin’s affairs remain very public and uncertain. This is not an isolated incident, and similar difficulties arose when the singer, Prince, died in 2016 without an estate plan in place.
Aretha Franklin’s affairs could have remained more private, and the administration and distribution of her estate could have been easier. It could also have saved estate taxes and prevent contention among her heirs. This might encourage New York residents to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney who can assist with drafting wills, trusts and other documents to ensure assets go to those for whom they are intended, without burdening the surviving family members with financial concerns and emotional upheaval.