Ask any trust and estate lawyer, and they’ll tell you it’s tragically common. Aretha Franklin fought a long battle against pancreatic cancer. She had even more reason and at least some time to face the inevitability of her death. I’m sure her closest advisors and friends counseled her to get a will more than once. Sadly, too few people listen to this advice.
There can be tax consequences for dying without a will, especially with a multi-million dollar estate like Aretha Franklin’s, but the true tragedy of dying without a will has less to do with money and more to do with the unforeseen consequences and emotional toll. Instead of grieving in private, the Franklin family now faces public estate administration. When you die without a will, the state courts step in to handle your affairs, making the administrative process more expensive and cumbersome for heirs. The lack of a plan, especially not planning for guardians or trusts for minor children, can increase the likelihood of court battles and disagreements among surviving family members. A child with special needs like Aretha Franklin’s son, Clarence, will likely be subject to lifetime court supervision.
Without a will or trust in place, Franklin’s property will be distributed under the law of the state where she lived, by a process known as intestate succession, which will result in all of her finances becoming public. This is true for all people who die without a will or trust, and the laws may be contrary to your wishes. Under the State Intestacy Statute, relatives you hardly know or with whom you have no relationship could inherit all or a substantial portion of your estate. Family members or others you wish to benefit may receive nothing.
Hopefully, the Franklin family will prevail over these challenges, but it could take years to close the books on the estate. Prince died without a will years ago, and his heirs still haven’t received any money. There is something to closure. Families deserve privacy and peace of mind. I’m sure Aretha Franklin wanted her affairs handled a certain way, but now her loved ones are left to guess her wishes and forced to accept a legislated outcome.
Don’t invite the state to interfere any more than absolutely necessary in your most private, personal affairs. Think of your family and loved ones, especially those most vulnerable. Let Aretha Franklin serve as a reminder to us all the importance of planning ahead. You need to be prepared for tomorrow because, eventually, it comes. We tell our children to do their homework. Now, let’s do ours.
We advise that everyone make the time to get their end-of-life documents and plans in order, regardless of your stage of life. Wills can be continually updated and may be changed as needed. Our Trusts + Estates team is here to answer any of your questions regarding your planning. Interested in learning more about what constitutes an effective estate plan? Visit our blog here.