Besides Aretha Franklin's obvious musical legacy she left behind, the issues regarding her estate could include teaching consumers the vital importance of Estate Planning. Like other celebrities before her, Franklin – like Prince, Pablo Picasso, and even Abraham Lincoln, past US president and even a lawyer himself – reportedly died without a will or a trust. As a result, there could be legal battles ahead in probate court for family members and others because of it.
It's shocking, especially when you consider that Franklin, who died Aug. 16 at age 76, had been battling pancreatic cancer for quite some time. And reportedly, she had $80 million in assets at the time of her death, according to various estimates.
"It's especially surprising given that she has a special-needs son named Clarence who needs financial and other forms of support for his entire life," according to TMZ. How much Franklin's estate really has to distribute to her heirs isn't known. The real value to them will be determined in the many months – and possibly years – ahead.
All that money and yet no will? Afraid so. And the problem of procrastination is a problem many share, celebrities included. Prince while no stranger to lawyers for other matters in his life had an estimated estate of $200 million at the time of his passing, and he died without a will, too. Two years after his death, his heirs still had not received any money.
If you die without a will, the state, the courts and the lawyers step in to handle matters. Creditors will be paid off and assets will be distributed under the law of the state where you live. The legal bills pile up and build in many cases – especially if there are disputes.
When you don't have a will, it makes it more likely there's going to be fighting, and makes it a lot harder on your family during this process. So what happens without a Will in place, and why is it important to have a plan in place? Here are some examples of potential pitfalls and things to think about:
Likely court battles without a will
Even in everyday family situations – say where Mom or Dad leaves behind an old car, a house and maybe if you're lucky a few hundred thousand dollars – something to fight about is very easy to find when there isn't proper estate planning in place. "He promised me this' or 'she promised me that,' " This is where a lot squabbles start. Franklin in her case, had been advised over and over to spell out her wishes for how her estate should be handled and to do a trust.
The chances go up when things aren't spelled out that Franklin's four children will find something to fight over. Things can become a lot harder on the family after a death when no planning is in place. "You better think. Think about what you're trying to do to me," as Franklin famously sang.
It is crucial to plan what happens with your money before you die
Even though you don't want to think about death, it remains important to find a good, experienced attorney and start the estate-planning process. Ask your accountant for recommendations. Ask an attorney who helped you in the past for a recommendation. Research recommendations from a local bar association. Loved working with your divorce or real estate attorney? Great, but he or she might not be the right person for complicated estate planning. It is best to consult with a qualified elder law attorney who dedicates their entire practice to this type of law as there is a lot to consider.
Ideally, you want to take time to think out potential problems that can occur. Are you worried that your daughter-in-law will spend all your son's money once you die? Are you fearful that a child with a drug addiction shouldn't be left $50,000 in cash? Do you have a child with special needs (like in Franklin's case) that will need help for the rest of their life? These are certainly the kinds of things that you'd want to address in an estate plan!
It is key to discuss with your attorney all of the factors involved when creating an estate plan! For example, creating a trust isn't enough. Michael Jackson, who died at age 50 in 2009, had made a will and set up a trust for his children. But like some everyday fathers and mothers, he didn't take the next key step – and fund the trust or re-title his assets into it, which turned into a family mess.
Involve your family in your planning
Tell your family where the original of your will is located, so they will know when to look when the time comes. Let them know your plans. Don't make your family hunt for all that necessary paperwork after your passing when nerves are frayed and emotions are already high. Make sure you update beneficiaries, too, for valuable assets, such as a 401(k) plan or Individual Retirement Account. Be sure to let loved ones know about those assets.
For more information about Estate Planning Basics everyone should have in place, check out this link:
Estate Planning (Wills, Powers of Attorney, Living Wills, etc.)