Deeply private in life, Aretha Franklin’s estate will be laid bare for all to see, as according to court documents, she died without having a will or trust in place.
Documents filed by her four sons in Oakland County Probate Court on Tuesday acknowledged the absence of a will and named themselves as parties interested in her estate. The relevant clause reads: “The decedent died intestate and after exercising reasonable diligence, I am unaware of any unrevoked testamentary instrument relating to property located in this state….” Additionally, Franklin’s niece, Sabrina Owens, asked to be appointed as the estate’s personal representative.
There’s no indication that any of the parties are in conflict and, at least for the moment, the family seems to be on the same page, which is vital when potentially large estates (Franklin’s exact net worth is unknown, but it’s estimated at roughly $80 million and includes the rights to a number of her hit songs) pass through intestacy. That being said, even if family strife is avoided, the complete lack of wealth transfer planning on Franklin’s part will likely result in Uncle Sam taking a huge tax bite out of that figure.
In an interview with the Detroit Free Press, Franklin’s long-time entertainment lawyer Don Wilson (the estate’s lawyer is David Bennet) doesn’t paint a particularly optimistic picture. “I was after her for a number of years to do a trust,” he said. “It would have expedited things and kept them out of probate and kept things private.” Wilson continued, noting, “I just hope [Franklin's estate] doesn’t end up getting so hotly contested. Any time they don't leave a trust or will, there always ends up being a fight.“
Whether Bennet’s fears come to pass remains to be seen; however, what is certain is that Franklin should have followed her own advice and taken sometime to think—think about what your trust will be about.