Aretha Franklin family feud shows importance of making a will

The unfortunate dispute that arose recently among the legendary soul singer’s sons illustrates what can happen when a person dies without having made a properly drafted will.

Aretha Franklin, the American singer, songwriter and pianist that sold over 75 million records worldwide, named twice as the greatest singer of all time by Rolling Stone magazine, died in 2018. At the time, it was thought she had not made a will, so her estate was divided equally between her four sons. However, a few months later, two handwritten wills were found. One was dated June 2010 and was found in a cabinet at her home. The other was dated 2014 and was in a notebook found under sofa cushions. The discoveries led to a bitter five-year dispute between the sons. 

The 2010 document provided for a largely even distribution of Franklin's assets but required that sons Kecalf and Edward had to take business classes and get a certificate or a degree in order to benefit from the estate. Under the 2014 will, three sons would evenly split her music royalties and bank funds, while the youngest Kecalf and his grandchildren would inherit his mother's primary residence, a gated mansion last valued at $1.2million. The dispute over whether the wills were valid and if so, which one should stand, lasted five years and was eventually settled by a jury in a court in Michigan. It decided that the 2014 will should be accepted as valid. 

Family disputes only tend to get publicity when celebrities are involved but they are becoming increasingly common when people either don’t make a will or, as in this case, leave a badly drawn up document of questionable validity. The best way to ensure your estate is inherited by people of your choosing is to make a valid will that is properly drawn up and legally binding. If you don’t do this, there’s a real possibility that your estate will pass to people you may not have chosen yourself, or as with Aretha Franklin’s sons, that it leads to years of family infighting and legal action.

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