Famous People and Incomplete Estate Planning


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Man and woman in disagreement

A recent New York Times article highlights the problems that can occur when a person (whether famous or not-so-famous) dies without a properly completed estate plan.

Even Famous People Fail to Properly Prepare their Estate Plans

A recent New York Times article highlights the problems that can occur when a person fails to properly complete their estate planning. Aretha Franklin, who died in August of 2018, was initially thought to have not left a will. Without a valid will, assets are distributed under state law (which may not be the way that the decedent wanted the assets to be distributed).

However, in May of 2019, three hand-written documents were discovered, which may have been valid wills (one document was found stuffed under a sofa cushion). Now, various family factions are fighting over these documents are enforceable wills and who has control of Aretha’s estate. The New York Times article makes it clear that the fighting over her estate will continue until a possible trial in the fall. Aretha’s niece, Sabrina Ownes, recently resigned due to the significant disputes and fights.

All of this fighting results in significant legal fees as well as the pain and anguish of family disputes, and the potential for difficulties in planning for Aretha’s estate’s future business plans.

The Importance of Proper and Thoughtful Planning

Even though most of us will never have the fame (or the assets) that Aretha enjoyed, proper and thoughtful estate planning is still an important process to help ensure that your estate planning intentions are carried out with disputes or uncertainty. None of us want to see our loved ones skirmish over our assets, which can be a distinct possibility when wills are not properly prepared.


Although Aretha may not have been thinking about her estate planning when she wrote 

I’m about to give you all of my money

And all I’m askin’ in return, honey

Is to give me my propers

When you get home,

with a properly completed estate plan, she would have been in a better position to say 

Now I’m no longer doubtful of what I’m living for

And if I make you happy I don’t need to do more

Aretha Franklin was a one-of-a-kind performer with talent and charisma the likes of which we may not see for a long time. Although her talent was unique and beyond most people, we can all benefit from ensuring that we take the steps needed to ensure that we don’t leave behind confusion and doubt as to our intentions for our own legacies.

Lucent Law offers a number of affordable fixed-fee estate planning services for individuals and families through our EssentialLaw program.

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