After her death last August, it was thought that Aretha Franklin had no last will and testament. However, as relatives have been going through her home and personal effects, it appears that not only did she have a will, she handwrote three wills, including one that was found stashed under a cushion.
Each of Aretha’s wills is handwritten. The three documents have been submitted as part of the probate process to have the court determine if any of them will have legal standing.
Aretha Franklin’s actions—or her lack of the right actions—may could cost her heirs a considerable amount of money in legal fees. It also will make the probate process longer and more stressful. In addition, the ultimate court decision concerning her estate may not be consistent with her wishes.
Fox Business’ recent article, “Aretha Franklin's handwritten wills found: Big estate planning no-no,” asks what can we learn from the Queen of Soul’s Estate Planning blunders?
First, do it right and ask an estate planning attorney to help you draft your will. He or she will make sure that your will and estate plan comply with the laws on your state. Probate and estate laws may be slightly different in every state, so be certain your will reflects your location and circumstances to be valid.
Don’t make a handwritten or “holographic” will. A handwritten will is valid in a surprisingly large number of states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming. However, talk to an experienced estate planning attorney in your state, if you have questions about a holographic will.
Spend the money and do it right. Hire a qualified estate planning attorney to make certain that everything is done correctly, so it’s the way you want it, and it will be upheld if questioned in court after you’re gone. That includes having the will witnessed and/or notarized.
Of course, while you can download a free form from the internet or pay $50 to buy a package, you should invest the extra funds to hire a legal professional to help can save your family a big expense in future extra legal fees.
Further, you should review your will at least every few years to make sure it accurately reflects your current wishes and to be certain that everything is consistent between the will and other documents, like beneficiaries listed on your insurance policies or investment accounts.
You also need to make sure your heirs can find the will. Hiding it in the sofa isn’t the recommended procedure, because who’s to say that Franklin didn’t stash a fourth or fifth handwritten will in a wardrobe or in the food pantry!
Rather than send your family on a scavenger hunt to figure out where you hid a will, think of estate planning as a love letter to those you’ll leave behind. Sit down with an estate planning attorney, create a proper estate plan and make sure that someone knows that you have a will, and where they can find it when the time comes.
Reference: Fox Business (May 22, 2019) “Aretha Franklin's handwritten wills found: Big estate planning no-no”