Oh Me, Oh My It’s Time to Get Your Estate Plan in Order: Lessons from Aretha Franklin’s Death and Her Handwritten Wills

May 24, 2019
Laura E. McGarry

When “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin died on August 16, 2018, her family thought she died without a Will. There were many questions about what would happen to her estate and what Aretha’s wishes were upon her death.

In legal terms, it was believed that Aretha died intestate, or without a Will. You can read more about Pennsylvania’s intestate laws and how an estate is handled when someone dies without a Will here.

In many cases, when someone dies without a Will, it can cause controversy in an already grieving family. For Aretha Franklin, we can only assume that the vast size of her estate and the legacy attached to it left her heirs wondering Who’s Zoomin’ Who?

But earlier this month, while cleaning out her Detroit home to prepare it for sale, Aretha’s family found three handwritten wills seemingly executed by Aretha herself. Two handwritten Wills dated 2010 were found in a locked cabinet and a third handwritten Will dated 2014 was found under a couch cushion. For All We Know, these Wills were created by Aretha and did contain her wishes for her estate upon her death. The question remains, however, whether these handwritten Wills are enforceable. This is a question that is already scheduled to be heard by a court in Michigan in June.

Our own Matt Landis has previously written about the validity of handwritten Wills by reflecting on Ron Swanson’s handwritten Will in one of our favorite shows, Parks and Recreation. Matt’s blog can be found here.

To prevent any confusion regarding your wishes upon your death and to avoid disputes between your family members regarding whether you had a Will or whether your Will is enforceable, it is best to consult an attorney to assist you with drafting your estate planning documents. After all, there Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.  

Professionally drafted estate planning documents will help to ensure that your heirs Respect your wishes. You don’t want to force your family onto a Bridge Over Troubled Water regarding your estate. So, it is best to take the time now to Think about what you want to happen after your death and Get it Right.

The following is a list of blogs that previously appeared on the Lancaster Law Blog to help you get started with your estate planning:

In these Everchanging Times, it is never too early to ensure that your estate planning is in place to protect your interests after your death and to ensure that you family is taken care of. So, Jump to It and Call Me or one of our attorneys to help you get started on your estate planning or to update your existing estate planning documents.

Laura McGarry is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Penn State Law and provides legal counsel to individuals and businesses in Lancaster and surrounding communities. She wonders: Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time) with all of the Aretha Franklin song titles I snuck into this blog?