It Turns Out Aretha Franklin Had Three Wills
By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
July 11, 2019
Last fall, we shared the news of how Aretha Franklin passed away with no known will. We also reported that, for the most part, the process of making estate decisions as a family had been surprisingly smooth.
We may have spoken too soon.
Because three handwritten wills recently surfaced in the Oakland County Court where Franklin’s estate was being processed through probate. Two, found in a locked cabinet in the singer’s home, were dated 2010. Another was discovered under a couch cushion in a spiral notebook. It was apparently written in 2014.
At last report, the previously amicable heirs (and their counsel) are now being described as “unable to reach a resolution with each other over the admission, validity and dispositive provisions” of these wills.
What Happens with the Queen of Soul’s Legacy Now?
The primary issue at hand is the validity of these three “holographic wills,” or wills entirely handwritten by the testator (owner of the estate). Michigan is one state that allows this type of will into probate – should it meet certain requirements.
Holographic Will Requirements
First off, the document must be entirely handwritten by the single testator – not typed. In wills containing both handwritten and typed provisions, those that are keyed are typically ignored.
Michigan’s statute does require the document to be hand-signed and dated. However, in lieu of witness signatures, authentication by other means is required – two (or more) individuals’ testimony as to the validity of the handwriting, and to the wishes the documents contain.
Franklin’s representatives have hired a handwriting expert to evaluate these new documents. We have yet to hear their findings.
So, what happens if all three wills are found to be valid?
The One Closest to Formal Is Used
Often the court accepts the document which comes closest to meeting formal requirements as the one which is legally binding.
In Aretha Franklin’s estate, for instance, the holographic wills under lock and key would be more likely admitted than notes which are part of a larger diary (or, in this case, a spiral notebook shoved between couch cushions).
A Single Will Would Likely Have the Franklin Estate Already Dissolved
Based on the details released so far, one thing is clear: Franklin wanted her sons to be provided for. However, there are issues likely to bring what was a quick and amicable probate of this estate to a screeching halt.
Here are three of them:
- Uneven splits among physical and intellectual property
- Provisions requiring some children to obtain higher education certificates or degrees
- Not mentioning dollar figures beyond a single $1.6 million bank account
Estate planning attorneys find the biggest challenge lies in heirs not being treated equally. Beneficiary inequality and negative personal commentary can spark the controversy a single, professionally prepared will can typically avoid.
In fact, had Franklin simply added to the originally written document and had an attorney review it each time, her estate would likely have already been dissolved.
Another hearing took place just days ago. We shall see what direction these new developments will drive Franklin’s heirs to take.
In the meantime, if you have questions regarding how to write a single will or other aspects of planning your estate, a Florida estate planning attorney can help you make it easy for your surviving loved ones to divide your estate.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Strategic Planning With Purpose®
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