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Aretha Franklin’s Family is Still in Court Over Her Estate (How She Could Have Avoided This)

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What is one thing you should do before your death to reduce the likelihood of family tussles? Have an estate plan ready to make your intentions clear as to how your assets should be distributed. The state will decide for you if you bypass this measure.

Anyone with a basic knowledge of estate planning recognizes that getting an estate plan is extremely important. When individuals with substantial assets and diverse families die without an estate plan in place, family members and others often participate in costly, lengthy, divisive legal battles, including probate. That would certainly not have been what the deceased would have liked. People don’t want to think about their eventual death, sadly, so they don’t take action that will help prevent these conflicts. One prominent case of the family of Aretha Franklin over assets, which was completely preventable if she had taken the correct steps and planned an appropriate estate plan with the help of a proven estate planning attorney.

If you are seeking an estate planning attorney, you can get in touch with us at Leydorf Law Firm and we’re located in Lansing, Michigan.

Dying without an Estate Plan

The default law, called the law of intestacy, steps in to decide how the estate of the person will be handled when someone dies without a Last Will and Testament. However, needless delays and expenses could plague the estate administration for years to come without guidance in the form of a Will or other estate planning method.

For individuals, including those of ultra-high net worth, it is not unusual to avoid completing their estate plan. It can be complicated and emotional to explore complex family dynamics, limitations, and your wishes after death. However, one of the greatest gifts that can be offered to a family after the death of a loved one is a solid estate plan.

Estate Distribution

Aretha Franklin allegedly left three handwritten wills, one of which was found months after her death in a sofa. Her four sons submitted a document listing themselves as interested parties in her estate following her death. Aretha’s estate has been valued to $80 Million.

The four children of Aretha Franklin shall get equal shares of her assets. They would have to pay a large sum in taxes, however. She was a Michigan resident who doesn’t have an estate tax, so there’s not going to be a state estate tax. The federal government generally takes 40 percent of the over $11.18 million worth of portions of the assets. In other words, a tax bill of $27.5 million.

If she had been married, her estate would have passed to a spouse tax-free and possibilities would have been developed. She might have set up trusts to shield much of her money from heavy federal taxes had Ms. Franklin consulted with a professional tax and estate attorney. Most of us, at least while the limit is still so high, would not run into this particular issue.

Conflict of Wills

There wasn’t a formal will on file with her lawyers when Aretha Franklin died at age 76 in August 2018 after fighting pancreatic cancer. Her four sons, Clarence, Edward, Kecalf, and Ted White Jr., survived her and they were entitled to inherit her estate equally.

Several handwritten wills were found in her home after she died. This has placed several of her loved ones at odds, which has led to a nasty court battle.

Child with Special Needs

Reportedly, one of Franklin’s children has special needs. This may have put him in a vulnerable position. He would no longer be eligible for any government services if he inherits a significant amount of money. That will not be a problem, considering the scale of his inheritance. However, for those with less wealth, that is why estate planners promote the use of trusts with special needs. This not only safeguards the eligibility of the kids, but also prevents them from misusing the money or being scammed by dishonest people.

Privacy Concerns

Although Michigan does not have state taxes, the state has a “postmortem publicity right,” which ensures that Aretha Franklin’s heirs have the right to preserve her image legally for commercial use. Thanks to her legendary status as a singer, songwriter, and cultural touchstone, her postmortem publicity rights are estimated to be exceptionally high.

Consult with a Michigan Estate Planning Attorney

We see media stories of celebrities that die suddenly every now and then, leaving large assets. Family members, estate planning attorneys, and consultants are left with months or years of work, trying to untangle the financial mess.

It is an essential and serious matter to hire an attorney to help protect and retain resources throughout your lifetime and arrange for the proper distribution of assets after your death. Each person has numerous financial, family, and philanthropic objectives that need to be considered in the process.

No matter what your net worth is, consulting an estate planning attorney is critical. Contact the Leydorf Law Firm if you are seeking an accomplished Michigan estate planning attorney.