Last week, Aretha Franklin passed away at 76 due to advanced pancreatic cancer. This week, reports have been coming in claiming that the Queen of Soul had died without a Will or Trust. According to her long-standing attorney, Don Wilson, he had requested that she establish a trust numerous times, but she never got around to creating one.
Unfortunately, Aretha Franklin is far from the first notable individual to pass without establishing a Will or Trust, many of whom often happen to be significant celebrities and musicians. Perhaps immense fame comes with a sense of immortality. But, the sad truth is that two-thirds of estates are administered without a Will or a Trust.
The process of signing a document that identifies your beneficiaries, your executor, and the guardian for your minor children—if you have them—is not particularly difficult or overly time consuming. If anything, taking the time now will save you and your loved ones a lot of stress in the long run. Failing to properly establish this document means that you are choosing to allow state law to make those decisions for you.
While few people can match Aretha Franklin’s reported $80 million net worth, federal and state estate inheritance taxes are assessed on much smaller estates. Aretha Franklin resided in Michigan, and under Michigan state law, if an unmarried person dies without a will, his or her assets are divided equally among any children. Furthermore, the finances of all Ms. Franklin’s assets will now have to become public in Oakland County Probate Court because of the absence of a will.
Having an estate plan in place can minimize tax liability and limit the costs of administering your estate. It can also prevent your estate from being depleted by intra-family disputes about the distribution of your estate. In this instance, Ms. Franklin’s four sons have since filed a document listing themselves as interested parties in her estate, and her niece has asked the court that she be appointed a personal representative of the estate.
As Ms. Franklin’s attorney Mr. Wilson so aptly put it, “Any time they don’t leave a trust or will, there always ends up being a fight.”
Estate planning can also utilize Trusts to protect the inheritance of minor beneficiaries and those with special needs, including developmental disabilities, substance abuse issues, and financial difficulties.
Perhaps most importantly, a comprehensive estate plan allows you to communicate your precise wishes and instructions so that your family is not left guessing when you are no longer able to guide them.
If you still need to establish a Will or Trust, or need to update an existing Will or Trust, it is strongly recommended that you seek experienced estate planning attorney.