The attorneys representing two of Aretha Franklin’s sons say yet another will was found in the files of a law firm she had hired to help her with estate planning.
New York Times’ recent article entitled “Another Possible Aretha Franklin Will Surfaces in Estate Dispute” reports that the legendary singer died at 76 in 2018, and her family assumed she had no will. Then, nine months later, a few handwritten documents, which may represent two or even three wills, were found in the singer’s Detroit home. This caused a fight among her four sons over how her estate should be administered, and its assets divided.
The latest chapter in the story is that a detailed document has been found that lawyers for two of Franklin’s sons say is a draft of yet another will from Franklin’s final years. The papers, filed in a Michigan court this week, include an eight-page document, titled “The Will of Aretha Franklin.” This will was said to have been drafted in 2018. The filing also includes another 23 pages that detail the terms of a trust. Both of these are stamped “draft,” and neither document has Franklin’s signature.
According to the lawyers, Franklin retained a Detroit lawyer, Henry M. Grix, to help with her estate planning. The filing includes correspondence from Grix, dated December 2017, in which he summarizes an estate plan for Franklin, asks her some questions and refers to earlier discussions between them. The filing includes further handwritten notes, said to be Franklin’s, in which she lists family members and other lawyers, along with her properties.
The filing, by attorneys for her sons Ted White Jr. and Clarence Franklin, states that the documents are evidence that their mother had been in discussions with Grix “for over two years,” and that the correspondence included her initials. After she “fell very ill,” they said, another lawyer informed Grix that she was unable to sign.
It is not known how the document would impact the ongoing negotiations over the estate, which is estimated to be worth $80 million.
The document wasn’t signed by Franklin, but under Michigan law, it could be accepted as a valid will. If the person who wants this to be Aretha Franklin’s will can prove to the court by clear and convincing evidence that she intended it to be her will, then the court could rule that it is.
This is just another example of why it is important not to procrastinate when it comes to your estate planning. Despite the arguments of the attorneys in this case, it is highly unlikely that unsigned estate planning documents will pass as a valid Will or Trust. It is more likely that these arguments are being used to leverage a settlement in this case. Even celebrities fall victim to these simple mistakes. You should meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that you get the documents you need in place before something happens to you or your family so that you can ensure that your estate plan is valid.
Reference: New York Times (March 11, 2021) “Another Possible Aretha Franklin Will Surfaces in Estate Dispute”