Almost from the moment music legend Aretha Franklin died in 2018, her relatives have been fighting over her valuable estate. The case dragged on for years in probate court until a jury recently ruled that a 2014 handwritten document found in a couch is Franklin’s valid will and dictates how her assets will be distributed.
Nobody wants it to take five years and require a jury trial to get their estate probated. Besides the massive delays and expenses, it would not be surprising if the experience has destroyed relationships within Franklin’s family. Here are three lessons from this story to help you avoid this unfortunate scenario.
The most recent will (usually) wins
Franklin wrote at least two wills during her lifetime, which is not unusual. If you write a new will, the new one should make it clear that it supersedes the previous one. This will minimize the chances of a dispute over which will is the one that should be probated. In Franklin’s case, his family was divided over the 2014 will and a 2010 one.
Handwritten wills are not accepted in Georgia
A will handwritten by the testator themselves is called a holographic will. Many states accept holographic wills as long as they conform to legal requirements, like being signed by the testator in front of witnesses. However, Georgia is not one of those states. If you live here, your will should be prepared by a lawyer.
Your final wishes should be clear
Franklin’s 2010 and 2014 wills contained several contradictions, such as who she wanted to be her executor and what two of her children had to do to receive their inheritances. When writing your estate plan, make it clear who your heirs and beneficiaries are, what they will inherit, who you want to be your executor and other details. A lack of ambiguity can eliminate a lot of potential will challenges and other disputes.
Few estate administration proceedings take as long, cost as much or receive as much media attention as Aretha Franklin’s estate did. But will challenges can happen. The best way to prevent them is to have a comprehensive and customized estate plan in place.