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Aretha Franklin’s Death Raises Issue of Dying Without a Will

Stephanie C. Smith

The world noted Aretha Franklin’s recent passing with sadness as well as fond memories of her amazing talent and career. The news following her death, as reported by CNN, that she died without a will or trust, brought different discussions to the forefront.

When a wealthy, famous person dies without any estate planning in place, people wonder how could it be? How could someone with such wealth, as well as access to legal services, neglect to do any planning at all? And what does the failure to plan mean for the person’s family?

In Aretha Franklin’s case, four sons have stepped forward and filed a document listing themselves as “interested parties”, and a niece has asked to be appointed as the personal representative of the estate, according to CNN. Regardless of who serves as personal representative, and who the beneficiaries of her estate will be, the probate proceedings will be public. The size of her estate, the amount of debt, the division of assets, and any disputes relating to the estate will inevitably be in the news. Had Ms. Franklin employed her longtime attorney or any attorney to prepare an estate plan, she would have been able to direct who would be handling her estate, how it would be distributed, and possibly even avoid probate altogether. With proper planning, her privacy would have remained intact.

While many of us question why someone in Aretha Franklin’s position would not take simple steps to plan ahead, in fact most people ought to take the same steps. Although each person has different assets, different debts, different family structures, and different inclinations in terms of what they wish to do with their assets, for each person it is important to put in place a plan that appoints the person or entity best-suited to serve as personal representative, and to tailor the division of the estate exactly how such person wishes. Absent a plan, none of us has any control over who administers our estate, or how our assets will pass. We don’t need to have estates the size of Aretha Franklin’s, or a persona as public as hers, to need the structure and protection of estate planning, as well as the comfort to our family and friends that our wishes are being honored.

If you, a loved one, or a friend has not yet put planning in place, please contact us so that we may assist you in this very important process.

Stephanie C. Smith

Written By Stephanie C. Smith


Stephanie C. Smith is a Shareholder in the law firm of Midgett Preti Olansen. Her practice areas include estate planning, estate and trust administration, and business matters. Additionally, Ms. Smith serves as a Commissioner of Accounts for Virginia Beach Circuit Court.

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