Probate and Will, Trust & Estate Disputes

Publish date

29 May 2023

Avoid your beneficiaries getting the blues

Aretha Franklin left three handwritten Wills at her Detroit home before her death, the latest one dated 2014 which has some information crossed through and some words hard to decipher. The most recent Will was found under a cushion in her living room, with the other two found in a locked cabinet. Her lawyer filed all three Wills with the court, asking for a ruling on which one (if any) are valid under Michigan law.

Nearly four years after her death, the court ruled in November 2023 that the 2014 handwritten note was a legitimate Will. The 2014 Will was signed with a smiley face instead of a signature and following the court order takes priority over the older ‘Will’ from 2010. The Independent reported that the 2010 Will set out an even distribution of assets between the late singer’s children whereas the 2014 Will left three of Ms Franklin’s sons an equal share of their mother’s music royalties, but her youngest son received a larger share of personal property including homes and cars. It is important to recognise that had the former Will been found to be valid, Ms Franklin’s assets would have been distributed differently and not in accordance with Ms Franklin’s updated wishes, as evidenced by the later Will.

The reported problems with Aretha’s Wills highlight the importance of not only taking advice about the content of your Will but ensuring that it is validly executed. There have been a number of cases publicised recently where a ‘DIY’ Will has been completed and caused problems after the person making the Will has died. By completing a Will validly, clearly and with the appropriate advice, it can save many problems after death, including avoiding unnecessary court involvement and potentially saving tax.

For more information about preparing a will, please contact one of the Private Client or Contentious Probate team or call 01892 510000.

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