Aretha Franklin: why having a valid Will matters for those with assets

Jeremy Brooks

Article written by Jeremy Brooks, Private Client Solicitor

Music icon, Aretha Franklin, who passed away in 2018, has been in the news following a dispute over a handwritten Will that was found in a notebook under the couch cushions. A jury has found the Will from 2014 to be valid.

Aretha Franklin left two handwritten Wills – one from 2010 and a revised version from 2014. The jury accepted the copy from 2014 to be the legitimate Will. The singer who was said to be worth $80 million when she died in fact only had a declared net estate of $6 million, according to the BBC, due to unpaid taxes and the depreciating value of assets.

So, what are the benefits of having a written Will?

Much of the dispute in Aretha Franklin’s family can be traced to the fact that her Wills were handwritten and informal. There are numerous benefits to having things set down formally such as:

  1. Preserving your personal wishes

A formal Will allows you to have full control over the distribution of your estate and ensures your personal wishes are honoured. It should prevent any ambiguity or disputes amongst the beneficiaries. You can leave specific assets to individuals, provide for dependents and make charitable donations.

  1. Prevention of family conflict

A comprehensive formal Will reduces the likelihood of family disputes and conflicts after your passing. A Will clearly states your intentions, which minimises the potential for strained relationships and legal battles. A Will is designed to eliminate uncertainty and acts as a valuable document in terms of the distribution of assets.

  1. Efficient estate administration

A formal Will is designed to simplify the probate process. Without a Will, the distribution of assets can be both complex and time consuming, subject to intestacy rules which may not align with your wishes. A well-drafted Will expedites the administration of your estate, allows for a smoother transition of assets and reduces the administrative costs to ensure your beneficiaries receive their inheritance in a timely manner. A handwritten Will may make perfect sense to the person who wrote it but if it is not absolutely clear to those who are reading it after you have died, it will lead to disputes and your intentions may not be honoured.

  1. Protection for loved ones

A formal Will provides protection for your loved ones, allows you to designate a guardian for children to ensure they are cared for by someone you trust. You can also outline funeral arrangements and address any outstanding debts and tax obligations thereby easing the financial and emotional burdens on your family members at an already challenging time for them.

The French writer François de La Rochefoucauld wrote that ‘death like the sun is not to be looked at steadily’ and we prefer not to think about it at all.  However, we ignore its reality at our peril. By clarifying your wishes in a legally binding document, you can preserve your wishes, protect loved ones, prevent family conflicts and streamline the administration of your estate. Drafting a Will with a solicitor brings peace of mind and ensures your legacy is honoured while your loved ones are cared for according to your wishes.

To discuss a Will or for specific information on a Private Client matter, please feel free to email me or contact the team on 020 8858 6971.