American singer and songwriter Aretha Franklin passed away on August 16 at the age of 76 after battling advanced pancreatic cancer. In the days following her passing, her four sons filed documents with the Michigan Probate Court stating that Aretha passed without a will or trust, and claimed to be interested parties in her estate. Aretha’s niece, Sabrina Garrett Owens is the personal representative to administer the estate.
When a person dies with a will, the probate court uses that and other documents (such as a trust), to guide them in determining the proper distribution of the deceased’s assets. However, when a person dies without a will, or “intestate,” their assets are divided pursuant to state statutory law.
Michigan law states if an unmarried person dies without a will, the assets will be equally divided among any living children, or “heirs”. In Michigan if you are married and die intestate your spouse could inherit all of your property or just a portion, depending on if the decedent has living parents or children/grandchildren/great-grandchildren.
While this may sound simple, it rarely is in cases where the deceased individual has an estimated net worth of $80 million.
Franklin’s attorney, Don Wilson, told CNN that he asked Franklin to draft a trust for a number of years and that if she had, “It would have expedited things and kept them out of probate and kept things private.” Due to the lack of a trust, the details of Franklin’s finances will become public record in Oakland County Probate Court.
It is a positive sign that Franklin’s children were able to come together quickly to appoint a family member to act on behalf of the estate. High-profile cases can often lead to fights among families, drawn out and expenses probate proceedings, and multiple lawsuits. Prince, who passed in April 2016, also passed without a will or trust resulting in family disputes, a rescinded multimillion dollar music deal, and multiple lawsuits in which the estate is involved.
Each state dictates procedure for distributing estate assets of an individual who dies intestate. North Carolina law directs that an unmarried decedent’s estate assets first go to children, followed by grandchildren, great-grandchildren, then any living parent. If no living parents, the siblings are next in line.
While not everyone is fortunate enough to have a multi-million dollar fortune, having a will and other estate planning documents is important. These documents help to prevent family disagreements, can ensure assets are being distributed in the desired manner, and prevent unnecessary disclosure of financial information in the public record. Disputes over wills and estates are not limited to the rich and famous, but happen every day to ordinary people.
If you are experiencing a dispute over a will or estate, it is important to consult with an experienced attorney. If you have questions regarding a will, trust, estate, or other legal concerns, please call us at (704) 457-1010 to schedule a consultation.
For more information, go to: Lindley Law Office – Trust and Estate Litigation