5 Lessons for Parents to Learn from Aretha Franklin's Estate

5 Lessons for Parents to Learn from Aretha Franklin's Estate

As we all know, the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, died last August, and appeared to have died without an estate plan in place to determine the distribution of her $25 million estate. Her estate was back in the news recently because her son filed to take over as executor after three handwritten wills were found. Of course, we all wonder why rich people so frequently die without a proper estate plan in place, but there are lessons here for regular people like you and me, as well. Here are a few that popped up for me just reading the recent news:

1. You need an estate plan.

You need an estate plan for so many reasons: to choose your personal representative (also known as an executor); to choose who gets what; and to choose how everything is distributed. When you do not have a plan in place, you spend thousands of dollars for your family to try to sort everything out, and it takes at least twice as long as it would if you had a plan. Here we are nearly a year after Franklin’s death, and it is still up for debate who the personal representative/executor will be. It would not be like this if she had a valid estate plan in place. Imagine how much fighting there will be over the other details, like who gets what and how much. This could take years to settle, and the only winners will be the lawyers. The emotional turmoil of fighting about money while grieving will have a profound effect on the family.

2. You need to tell your family about your estate plan.

Secrecy about your estate plan really helps no one and only causes confusion later on, which means more time and more money to sort it out. At the very least, you should communicate to your Trustee and other named fiduciaries that they may be called upon to serve in that role. It is also a good idea to communicate this with anyone with an interest in your plan (for example, tell your adult children who the Trustee is). Additionally, if there is anything in your plan that may surprise your family, it is a good idea to get that out in the open, so that there is not a fight later on. An example of this would be if one child receives a larger share of the estate or specific items that another child does not. Surprises cause a lot of emotions, disputes, time, and money.

3. Don’t try to DIY your estate plan.

I always shake my head when rich people try to DIY their estate plans, but it is even more headshake-worthy when regular people do it, because your family cannot afford the fees to fix your mistakes the way Franklin’s family can. She apparently has three handwritten wills, and the court will have to determine if they are validly executed and which one takes precedence. In all likelihood, the outcome may not be what Franklin intended. And if you try to DIY your estate plan, it might not turn out the way you intended either, but you will never find out. It will be the people you love who have to clean up your mess while they should be grieving in peace. Working with an experienced estate planning lawyer is the only way to ensure your estate is planned properly.

4. Don’t have multiple different copies of your estate plan out there.

When you have multiple different copies of your estate plan out there, it confuses people and leads to litigation. The best practice is to keep your original documents in a fireproof safe at home with the combination or key accessible to your Trustee, as well as a copy of your plan kept digitally with your lawyer’s office. Your lawyer and Trustee should have one another’s contact information so that they can easily be in touch if you die or are incapacitated. Your lawyer can also explain to your Trustee what your plan entails, rather than giving the Trustee a copy of a plan that you may change over the years.

5. Your family will fight, even if you think they won’t.

Everyone thinks that their kids will work together and become closer after they die. It very rarely happens that way. The death of a parent is an extremely stressful time that brings up all sorts of childhood dynamics that have been unresolved but dormant since childhood. All of a sudden, they remember that one was the favorite, one was the black sheep, one was the peacemaker. They remember that they never felt mom or dad was proud of them. They remember that older sibling was always kind of a jerk. Whatever the childhood dynamics were, they come up after the parent’s death. And then throw in the spouses of your adult kids, and it is a total party. Good luck when one of your kids married a lawyer and one of your kids married someone who has a lot of time on their hands and considers legal research a hobby. Or when one of your kids married an abusive con artist. Then it does not matter how well your kids get along, there will be turmoil.

These are just a few points that popped up for me reading the recent news about Franklin’s estate. If any of these worry you, you know who to call.

If you want to get started on your estate plan, read about our estate planning services and schedule an appointment.

To your family's health + happiness,

Candice N. Aiston

P.S. Want to get started slowly but surely, naming guardians for your kids? Check out our Guardian Plan kit.


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Candice N. Aiston is an Legal Planning Attorney for Estates + Businesses in the Portland, Oregon area. She helps people to prepare for a lifetime of security, prosperity, and guidance. If you would like to receive her free reports, please visit http://aistonlaw.com/ to sign up. Follow her Facebook page for daily planning tips: https://www.facebook.com/aistonlaw/.

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