By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
October 4, 2018
Aretha Franklin Didn’t Leave A Will – Now Her Family Needs a Probate Attorney
Aretha Franklin’s death was a blow for musicians, entertainers, and fans throughout the world. The Queen of Soul was 76 years old; her funeral featured tributes from Bill Clinton, Stevie Wonder, Ariana Grande, and Al Sharpton. Statements from former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush were also read at the ceremony.
But Franklin’s death wasn’t entirely unexpected since she was battling pancreatic cancer. That’s why so many attorneys and experts throughout the entertainment industry were surprised to learn that she passed away without a last will and testament.
Probate is a public and often messy process for anyone, but celebrities with big names like Aretha Franklin often have more assets to divide, making it even more complicated than the average person’s.
What Will Happen Next?
Fortunately, Aretha Franklin’s case seems to be going smoothly thus far. In fact, her sons were able to meet shortly before her death and discuss her estate through informal proceedings, which are allowed under Michigan probate law. The proceedings will be conducted through Oakland County Probate Court, where Franklin resided at the time of her death.
Sources have reported that Franklin’s niece, Sabrina Garrett Owens, will be named as the personal representative. All four of Franklin’s sons consented to this appointment. Owens will be in charge of dividing Franklin’s estate, reaching out to possible creditors, and providing appropriate financial information to Oakland County.
The informal proceedings went smoothly, so the family will not have to attend public court for probate hearings, though decisions they make may be publicly available. Michigan probate laws have also directed the estate to be divided equally between all four sons.
Write a Will – Not All Probate Cases Run Smoothly
Perhaps Aretha Franklin had faith that her children would be able to make decisions related to her estate amicably. And so far, that seems to be true. However, even with all parties working to make the process a smooth one, it will not be simple.
This is because cash and funds can be split evenly, but many assets simply cannot be divided as easily. For example, how will the copyright to her music be handled? What about the rights to her likeness and image?
If these assets are divided among multiple heirs, it can make difficult for those seeking to license her work since they have to determine which right is own by whom. In fact, someone may have to contact one heir to gain rights to a particular song, then another to use her likeness in their advertising, and yet another for the copyright of a particular photograph they want to use.
But sharing the assets can also be difficult since interested parties would have to gain permission from all heirs involved, which means each would have to agree to the particular terms of the agreement.
These complications can cause incalculable damage to her brand and her legacy, as well as in-fighting among family down the road.
If you choose not to write a will and testament, it’s important to understand that your assets will be divided according to state law, not your wishes. When the process is not well organized and thought-out in advance, it can be a recipe for disaster. Even if family members get along and agree on what is fair, the probate process can drag on for years.
Florida probate also operates differently than Michigan probate. There are very limited situations in which families can avoid court during the probate process. If the family is arguing, these court proceedings can be postponed for months at a time.
Help Your Family Avoid Probate: Talk to an Attorney
Avoid the probate process by ensuring that you have an updated estate plan that is legally acceptable in your state. Each state has different requirements and laws concerning probate; if you move to or from Florida after you write your will, you may need to update the document.
Reach out to a Florida probate attorney for more information about how to make the process of settling and dividing your estate easier for your loved ones.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Strategic Planning With Purpose®
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