Aretha Franklin, the legendary “Queen of Soul” died last August leaving an estate with an estimated value of $80 million.
At first her lawyer said she died without a Will.
But in May of this year, a search of her home in suburban Detroit yielded twelve pages of handwritten notes supposedly written by Aretha. The lawyer delivered the pages to the court late in May for the court’s review.
One of the sets of papers was found under a couch cushion and the others were found in a safe. The papers had many deleted words and notes in the margins. Thus Aretha’s intentions may be open to doubt.
One set had a notary stamp and signature, but none of them had witness signatures.
Handwritten bequests are called “Holographic Wills.” Such documents can be enforceable as Wills under Michigan law although they are not valid in Minnesota.
Aretha was not married at the time of her death, but she left four sons all of whom had different fathers. As might be expected, the four do not get along and they are all fighting over the estate.
The battle over whether the handwritten papers amount to a Will and who should get what assets of the estate is likely to be a long and bitter struggle.
Even the size of Aretha’s immediate estate may be small in comparison with the residual rights to her music rights and image.
Similar residual rights to other celebrities’ estates have been enormous. Michael Jackson’s ongoing residual rights total over $140 million per year, Elvis Presley’s are $55 million and the estate of Peanuts’ cartoonist Charles Schultz collects $40 million annually.
Revenue to Aretha’s Estate will probably be similar.
It’s no wonder why Aretha’s sons probably will fight in court for a long time in the future.
Aretha had the same personal attorney for 40 years so it is a mystery why she never had him prepare an estate plan for her.
It is one more celebrity lesson why everyone should have a Will or Trust and not rely on handwritten notes to carry out their wishes after their passing.