Aretha Franklin died on 16 August and shortly after her death was announced, her family revealed that she did not have a will. Aretha joins Prince, Stieg Larrson and Barry White as another celebrity who did not make any provision for their estate on death. Aretha's niece has petitioned the court to be appointed as her executor, and her children are likely to share her estate equally among them. But that will not stop other interested parties (creditors, more distant family members or others) from lodging potential claims against her estate, which the court will need to resolve.
Aretha's $80m estate immediately becomes far more complex in the absence of a will and the risk of disputes greatly increases, as do the legal costs and likely tax bills. And that does not take into account special considerations of her musical legacy. See our previous blog on protecting artistic legacy.
And when it comes down to it, potential claimants or interested parties tend to focus on themselves rather than respect for the deceased's likely wishes. In Aretha's case, just eight days after her death, PETA wrote to her niece asking for Aretha's collection of fur coats. Aretha supported many charitable causes in life but PETA was not one of them. Now her family will need to decide how to deal with this and think what Aretha would have done.
And whilst an $80m estate of mansions, fur coats and musical legacies may be a dream for most people, dealing with death of a loved one when there is no will is the stuff of nightmares. Recent estimates suggest two thirds of people in Scotland do not have a valid will. For cohabiting couples, this can have very serious consequences as there are no automatic succession rights. For bereaved children, there is no guardian in place. For married couples or civil partners with cash assets of over £50,000 (if they have children) and £89,000 (if they do not), the surviving spouse or civil partner will not receive the whole estate in the absence of a will. Children, siblings, parents could share in this depending on who survives.
Putting a will in place protects those that you love most and ensures there ain't no way your estate falls into intestacy.