Aretha Franklin was the undisputed “Queen of Soul” for decades, and she helped to make history on multiple different levels during her 76 years on the planet. She passed away in August of 2018, and from an estate planning perspective, there are some lessons to be learned from her inaction.
The Condition of Intestacy
Estate planning attorneys will always hammer home the fact that it is very important to have an estate plan in place to avoid intestacy. This is the condition that exists when someone passes away without any estate planning documents directing asset distributions. Under these circumstances, the probate court would be forced to step in to sort out the matter.
It is always going to be problematic unless the situation is extremely simple. However, when you are talking about a wealthy person that will continue to earn money posthumously, it is a very big deal. She had the same lawyer for over 40 years, and she had four sons. At first, they all appeared to agree that she passed away intestate.
When an intestate case is passing through the probate process, the court must empower a personal representative to act as the estate administrator. This will be a capable individual that has no conflicts of interest. In this case the court-appointed personal representative is Sabrina Owens, who is an administrator at the University of Michigan.
Months after the death of the legendary singer, three handwritten or holographic wills were found in her living room. Reportedly, a lot of it is hard to understand, but the most recent one appears to bequest assets to her family members. There are also instances of scratching out sections and adding text in the margins.
Clearly, it is going to take some time to get to the bottom of this rather complex situation, and but it appears as though her sons are in line for inheritances. Unfortunately, they will receive nothing until the case has been probated and closed by the court.
Another Celebrity Estate Planning Fiasco
One of the reasons why it is useful to avoid probate through the creation of a revocable living trust or another alternative is the fact that probate is a public proceeding. We would not be hearing about these facts if Aretha planned her estate effectively so that the assets were distributed outside of probate.
Anyway, since these records are available, there is another constructive celebrity estate planning case that serves as food for thought. We are going to truncate the story a bit because there are so many twists and turns. To cut to the chase, the great rock poet and singer Jim Morrison despised his parents and the parents of his common-law wife, Pamela Courson.
He was apparently quite aware of the possibility of an early demise given his lifestyle, so he did have a will in place leaving everything to Courson. What he didn’t do is account for actions that could take place after her death. This may be because she was in her early 20s when Jim Morrison died.
Unfortunately, she passed away a few years after Jim was laid to rest. There were court battles, but at the end of the day, his parents and her parents worked out a deal to split the estate.
Without question, this is certainly not the way that Jim Morrison would have wanted to see his assets distributed, and royalties are being paid to the estate to this day. The good news is that Morrison’s parents are now dead, so his siblings, who he had no problem with, are benefiting from his talents.
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Even if you are not a celebrity that is leaving behind a robust legacy, estate planning is a must to make sure that your true wishes are carried out. If you would like to discuss your goals with a knowledgeable Burlington estate planning attorney, we are here to help. You can send us a message to request a consultation appointment, and we can be reached by phone at 802-879-7133.