Singing legend Aretha Franklin, like many others before her, died without a will. Unlike many others, however, she has a massive legacy that could become the source of a great deal of controversy for her heirs.
The famous Queen of Soul died earlier this month after a protracted illness. Despite the fact that she knew for some time that her health was fragile, Franklin never created a basic will — let alone the type of trust that would better mange her tremendous wealth. Her assets include multiple mansions and the rights to her greatest hits, including classics like “Rock Steady.”
So, what happens now?
On one hand, her estate seems to be free — at least for the moment — from the sort of family infighting that has plagued the heirs of other great celebrities. Her four sons stand to divide the bulk of her estate once it has been evaluated and any debts paid.
However, her longtime attorney has publicly stated that determining the true value of her estate won’t be easy. It also remains to be seen how many people step forward claiming that they’re owed money or have rights to a portion of the total estate. The singer was reportedly often overwhelmed by financial dealings and frequently paid her debts late despite having the money to do so. Many creditors may still be waiting on payment.
Her attorney noted that it was unfortunate that Franklin didn’t have proper estate planning for several reasons. First, it would have kept the details of her estate private so that her heirs weren’t faced with so much public scrutiny. Second, it would have allowed the estate to avoid probate, which will be an unnecessary drain on the assets that Franklin left behind. Third, having an existing trust would have involved financial experts already, so there would likely be more order to her finances (which would make the division easier for her heirs). Finally, proper estate planning would greatly reduce the chances of there eventually being a probate battle or estate dispute.
Just about anyone with a significant estate can take some instruction from what is likely to happen with Franklin’s estate and use it to avoid making similar mistakes of their own.