Aretha Franklin Didn't Have a Will: What Does This Mean for Her Estate?

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on August 24, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Aretha Franklin died earlier this week, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Sadly, her death did not come as a surprise, since this is one of the few incurable cancers, and she had been sick for a while. What is a surprise, however, is that she died without a will.

Usually the two types of people that do have wills are those that are wealthy, and those that are terminally ill. Franklin was both. So why did she die without a will, leaving her $80 million estate to go intestate and split equally among her four children? At first glance, one might think she was dodging some sort of family squabble about her estate, perhaps how much money should be left to her longtime boyfriend, Willie Wilkerson. Maybe splitting evenly among her children is exactly what she wanted?

But what is slightly strange is that her eldest child has special needs, requiring both financial and other support. Most lawyers would have advised leaving at least his portion in some sort of trust with a reliable executor, especially since it could take years for her estate to be dispersed by the state of Michigan.

Dying Intestate

When someone dies without a will, that means they die "intestate." The state then collects all of the estate, usually sells everything since it is easier to split money evenly, and then divides it in a very strict manner of succession according to the state law in which the property resides. This process takes many years, is very public, and will be incredible complicated in Aretha's case.

As a musician, the courts will need to deal with dividing future royalty payments and other intellectual property rights that are difficult to value. In Michigan, since Franklin wasn't married, the estate will be split evenly among her four children. None will be given to her many grandchildren or to her boyfriend, whom she has been dating since the 1980's. How much of her estate resides in other states, or countries, which have different rules of succession, has yet to be seen.

Other Famous People to Die Intestate

Other famous people have died without wills. Prince died two years ago and left no will, which has led to numerous family disputes and even the revocation of a multimillion-dollar music deal. His estate is still being sorted out, and it will be many more years until the state of Minnesota competes this task. Bob Marley, the legendary reggae singer, died of cancer at the age of 50 in 1981 without a will, and his heirs are still battling over his estate. Under Jamaican law his estate was to be divided equally among his wife and 11 children. Wow! His wife got less than 10%?! In California, she would have gotten all of the community property and half of his separate property! Maybe there was a reason he died without a will.

All joking aside, it really is best to have a will. Money is the chief reason families argue, and to truly rest in peace, don't leave your family arguing. Creating a will can be a very easy process, and it doesn't have to be expensive. To find out more information, contact a local wills attorney who can review your situation, and provide you with sound, legal advice.

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