When you hear about mistakes that others make that yield negative consequences in the real world, it can really get your attention and impact your own actions. Yes, people can give you advice, but witnessing examples of what can actually happen can be a wake-up call.
This definitely enters the picture when it comes to estate planning. Attorneys will emphasize the importance, but at the end of the day, the majority of people go through life without any estate planning documents at all. Both younger folks and older individuals have failed to plan ahead appropriately.
You rarely hear about errors that are made by ordinary people, but some celebrity estate planning cases become widely publicized. Did you ever wonder why this information becomes available?
The probate court supervises the administration of an estate when a will is used, or when someone dies without a will. These records are available to the general public, and this is why you read about the details.
If you value your privacy you may want to arrange for asset transfers outside of probate through the utilization of a living trust if you value your privacy. Assets in a living trust can be distributed without probate involvement. This is a subject for another post, but it is related to the Aretha Franklin estate case that we will examine here.
Holographic Wills Found
The great soul singer Aretha Franklin died in August of 2018, and she was unmarried when she passed away. She is survived by four adult sons. Clearly, her estate is very valuable, and there will always be additional royalty revenues coming in that are generated by her work.
It has been reported that she had an attorney that had been working with her for over 40 years, but for whatever reason, at the time of her death, it was determined that she had no estate plan in place. This is a very unusual for someone with a considerable legacy to pass along.
When there is no will or any other documents directing asset transfers, the condition of intestacy is the result. Under the rules of the state of Michigan where she lived, the probate court is required to review the situation and appoint a personal representative to act as the administrator.
Final debts would be paid, and other issues could arise during the process. After everything is in order, the court will close the estate and order the distribution of the assets according to the intestate succession laws. In this situation, these laws would allow for everything to be transferred to the four sons.
That was the way that it stood until Franklin’s niece, Sabrina Owens, found some keys to a locked cabinet while she was cleaning the late artist’s home. In this cabinet, there were two holographic wills that were apparently written back in 2010. A holographic will is a will that was written out by hand.
Owens subsequently came upon a third handwritten will in a notebook from 2014 that was under a couch cushion. One of them required two of the four sons to complete business school before they could be given all of their inheritances. A judge will make the ultimate decision, and it would appear to be quite a jumbled legal mess.
As you can see, if Aretha had developed a relationship with a solid estate planning firm that has a background handling high net worth clients, all this confusion would have been avoided.
She could have explained her objectives and her concerns, and a custom crafted estate plan could have been created to ideally suit her needs. Instead, a judge that cannot get inside her head will have to do the best that he or she can to make an imperfect determination.
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