aretha franklin

by Estate Planning Attorney Nydia Menendez

Aretha Franklin was known as the Queen of Soul. Her tunes were not just harmonically excellent, but the lyrics were inspiring, uplifting and absolutely empowering. Remember, Aretha hit big in the post Civil Rights era. So, in my eyes she was iconic on so many levels.

Aretha passed away in March of 2018. She was only 76 years old. When she died her family believed she had no Will or any other form of Estate Planning.

Under Michigan law, that meant her Estate would be divided equally among her four sons. With that understanding, the sons approved the appointment of their beloved cousin, Sabrina, as the Estate’s personal representative.

Since then, however, three handwritten “Wills” have been found, including one located a year after Aretha’s death stuffed between the sofa cushions. (Who cleaned that house?) Turns out Aretha may not have died intestate after all! And, if there was a Will that changes everything.

In other words, Aretha’s Estate did not have to be distributed as dictated by the State of Michigan. Because with a Will, Aretha would be telling the world what she wanted to do with her stuff, and to whom she wanted it to go. What’s more, under Michigan law, a handwritten will could be valid even without witnesses, as long as it is signed, dated and in the handwriting of the deceased.

Aretha’s Estate was valued at approximately $80 million! Clearly, there has to be enough for each of her four sons, and a few other people Aretha may have included.

According to Michigan law, the family could bypass questions of the validity of the Wills if all heirs could come to an agreement. But it appears a solution will not be so simple. Lawyers connected to the Estate say they do not expect an agreement among Aretha’s heirs. And just like that, litigation continues.

A key point revolves around who will be the personal representative. It is now clear that the once beloved cousin Sabrina is no longer loved.

According to one of my colleagues in Michigan, at a hearing in August 2019 – more than a year after Aretha’s passing – there were nine attorneys and the hearing lasted over five hours. How could there be nine attorneys when she only had four sons? My guess is that Aretha may have wanted to include other people to be the beneficiaries of her wealth.

As of the writing of this article, June 2021, the Court has appointed an independent handwriting expert to review each document which could possibly be a Will.  Let’s see what that reveals and if any of the purported Wills drafted by the Queen of Soul will receive RESPECT.

The moral of this famous Estate is not only one, but many; but I’m going to settle for this: Plan!

  • Plan to make sure you leave your affairs in order.
  • Plan to protect what you’ve worked so hard to achieve. Here’s my thinking: Nine attorneys, a five-hour hearing. The cost of that one hearing had to be in the thousands and thousands of dollars. What a waste!
  • Plan to make sure peace of mind is part of the legacy you leave for your loved ones. Fighting and bickering over who gets what is not what you would want.

So, to make sure you have the final say. … Plan!

How Can You Get Started with Your Estate Plan?

If you want to learn more about how to plan for your future to make sure you remain in control of your decisions while leaving a lasting legacy for your family, we invite you to call our office at (954) 963-7220 to speak with a member of the Menéndez Law Firm. You may also want to watch the video series on our YouTube channel where we talk about Estate Planning in detail. Or if you would like to join us for the next live Wills, Trusts and Estate Planning webinar on Zoom you can register at no charge on our website

Nydia Menedez Nydia Menéndez
Estate Planning Attorney
Menéndez Law Firm
2699 Stirling Road, Suite B200
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312
Tel.: (954) 963-7220
Fax:  (954) 963-7232
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