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Aretha Franklin was a local legend around these parts.  Raised in Detroit, she became famous and was one of the most famous and influential singers of her time.  Her records sold millions, and she was popular from the 1960's all the way through her death in 2018.  Her impact on the music industry is without question.  However, following her death, details on Aretha Franklin's estate started to come out.  And, boy, it was a mess.  That's about the only way to describe it.

Unfortunately, that would come as no surprise to those that knew or followed her.


Aretha Franklin's estate will be like a complicated maze with many questions.

A History Of Money Related Lawsuits

One of the things that often came out about Aretha is that she was usually involved in some sort of legal turmoil.  As can be reasonably expected with someone of her celebrity and wealth, a lot of the turmoil centered around money.  As far back as 1999, she was reported to have a history of not paying her bills.  Even more recently, she was sued for not paying association fees for a condo she owned.  Any condo owner usually considers this a fairly simple task.

I used to listen to a morning radio show with a couple of local ‘shock' jocks.  In the early-2000's, they spent considerable time outlining the various trials and tribulations related to Aretha Franklin's money woes.  The reason they spent so much time on it is because it made no sense to them. How could someone who had as much money as she did always have some sort of money issue?  Isn't there a point where you have enough wealth that paying simple bills should be an easy task?

Apparently it was not for Aretha Franklin.

Aretha Franklin's Estate – Who Knows What Will Happen?

A couple of weeks ago information came out about Aretha Franklin's estate.  It came about because records were filed for probate, which are public record. The information was unreal.

Three Handwritten Wills

Aretha Franklin reportedly left three different wills.  All were handwritten.  Each contained conflicting information from previous wills.

Each will had information that was crossed out or written over.  None of them were exactly what any lawyer would call legally sound.

Non-Enforceable Clauses

Some of the clauses look to be unenforceable.  She stipulated educational requirements for some of the people she left money to, but these clauses may not be enforceable if the designees are adults.  So what happens?  I guess the court will decide.

Non-Estate Information

In her will(s), Aretha took the opportunity to call out some of the people that she felt had wronged her while she was alive.  She named certain lawyers and others and wrote that they were, well, less than desirable people.   While these may have been her thoughts, they were really just petty thoughts.  They do nothing to alter the distribution of her assets.

Vague Information

A lot of the information was pretty vague, from what I understand.  One of her children is special needs and she asked that the child be given extra consideration.  She didn't exactly specify details like actual amounts or who would oversee this.

Overall, the estate looks to be a mess.  The courts will sort it out.  Some of the confusions will be ruled on in terms of what trumps what. I'm sure people will be unhappy once the rulings come down.  There is already speculation that lawsuits will likely follow.

All in all, her estate looks like a mess that is going to likely take years to sort out.  Sadly, I would expect that a great deal of the money and assets that she wanted to distribute will go toward figuring out the estate itself, meaning that her loved ones and others will get less than she probably envisioned.

What You Should Learn From Aretha Franklin's Estate

The bottom line is that everybody needs a firm estate plan.  Take lessons learned from Aretha Franklin in making sure that you're covered.  Simple ideas include.

Designation of Beneficiaries

Every insurance policy and investment should have an opportunity to designate a beneficiary.  You can also designate a backup beneficiary in the event that the primary beneficiary dies.  This is such a simple task but it makes a world of difference.

Will or Trust

A simple will or more complicated trust takes the guesswork out of things.  It leaves intentions clear and reduces hurt feelings or confusion.  It's true that these take time and can cost money.  But, this also can mean more of your legacy will go toward those that you wish to have it.  Less for the lawyers!

It'll be interesting to see how things unfold with Aretha Franklin's estate.  I think we'll be reading about it for years.  She will leave many different legacies.  Her contribution toward the music industry will last forever.  The positive image she gave for African-American people and residents of Detroit will continue on. Unfortunately, some of that will be tarnished by her financial legacy.  Even more unfortunate is that it's not surprising at all.

Readers, have you heard any of the details about Aretha Franklin's estate?  Does reading about it inspire you to make some changes to your estate planning?  What do you think?