At the time Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, died in August 2018, it was said that she prepared no estate plan, no will, no trust. Unfortunately, she wasn’t the first celebrity to be in the news because of estate planning failures (or no estate plan at all). Now almost a year later, a story was just published reporting that Ms. Franklin had THREE handwritten wills, all tucked away in her house. The final will, written in 2014, was “inside a spiral notebook under cushions” said one of the attorneys. Read more by clicking here. By the way, the wills are available online. Here’s a link to the most recent one.
Handwritten wills like Aretha’s are likely to raise more questions than provide answers. In hindsight, Aretha should have seen an attorney to get a proper plan done. If she was trying to save money, a common theme, it looks like the legal fees will continue to pile up regardless of her intentions.
Celebrity estate planning failures can often inform us of mistakes to avoid and good practices to follow. Here are a few I came up with after reading about Aretha:
1. Never handwrite your own will! It is likely to be challenged, and it’s potentially easier to challenge. You’re likely to make mistakes, leave out important provisions, not sign it properly, among several other major issues.
2. Keeping old wills after writing new ones may help in certain circumstances, but speak to your attorney about this. More often, it’s best to keep just your current will.
3. Don’t hide your estate plan and not tell anyone where it is. Under cushions or other random places could mean your family doesn’t find your plan. In fact, show them where the plan is!
4. Finally, consider using a trust — Aretha could have definitely used a trust, but they’re great for middle class families as well, depending on the need.
Bottom line—if you don’t have a plan, don’t handwrite it yourself. See an attorney, such as myself, to help you put together a valid, well-crafted legacy plan. In return, you will receive something very important: PEACE OF MIND!