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‘Queen of Soul’ $6M Estate Left to Fate of Handwritten Note

‘Queen of Soul’ $6M Estate Left to Fate of Handwritten Note

It’s never too early to begin planning for your estate with a qualified professional in the event of your untimely passing. The sons of the late Aretha Franklin are a great example of what can happen when a loved one passes without a formal will.

The Queen of Soul passed away in 2018, and five years later, her last will and testament came down to multiple versions of a handwritten letter, differing opinions, and a final ruling from the jury on which one was official.

Franklin’s sons battle to determine “official” will

Three versions of her will were found after Franklin’s death in 2018, two of the handwritten notes were found in a cabinet in her home, and the most recent was discovered in 2014 under the cushions of her couch.

In the absence of an official will, the singer’s estate was left up to hard to decipher, scribbled out documents that detailed conflicting wishes for her assets.

One of her sons, Ted White II, maintained that the documents from the locked cabinet (found in 2010) should guide her estate plan while Kecalf Franklin and Edward Franklin were lobbying for the 2014 document.

The 2010 version of the will named White and Franklin’s niece Sabrina Owens as co-executors of her estate, adding that Kecalf and Edward must pursue some form of education to benefit.

The 2014 version crosses out White’s name and indicates that Kecalf was meant to represent her estate without an education caveat.

Jury rules 2014 version is valid

The main difference and the source of the battle were who was designated as the executor of her will. After a judge ruled that the jury was only required to determine whether the 2014 version was a valid will since it was the most recent version.

The jury reviewed versions of each handwritten note before finally determining that the 2014 version was a valid will awarding Kecalf and his sons Franklin’s home in Bloomfield Hills, MI, along with the furnishings and cars, while Ted White and Edward appeared to receive other dwellings.

There were other specific instructions detailed in the 2014 official will. This story is the most recent high-profile example of someone passing before they had formal plans and a designated executor.

Start planning as soon as possible with these simple steps:

  1. Prepare a personal net worth statement and include columns for ownership such as individually owned, joint, or designated beneficiary.
  2. Review amounts of death benefits and beneficiaries of life insurance policies.
  3. Review pension plans, 401K, and IRAs and the beneficiaries of those items.
  4. Communicate a desired plan for assets with your spouse if you were to pass.
  5. Get it in writing: Meet with a CPA and an attorney to calculate the effects of your planning and have your wishes drafted into a trust document in accordance with the laws of the state in which you reside.
  6. Select trustees responsible for your estate after your passing.  Be sure to select several alternatives.  They should share most or all the following character traits: responsible, trustworthy, well-organized, financially savvy, fair, honest and strong-willed.
  7. If you have young children, decide who will become their guardians if both of you were to pass.
  8. Transfer assets not jointly held with the next generation into your new trusts.

Other important considerations

In urging you to begin estate planning as soon as possible, we do so with the knowledge that the current estate tax exemption has been set at $12,920,000 ($25,840,000 for married couples), and the annual gift exemption will be $17,000 per person ($34,000 per married couple) for 2023. It’s not a guarantee that those amounts will not decrease at some point. With a dynamic political environment, the tools available to your family now to minimize tax liability may not be available tomorrow. 

If your family net worth is above the available exemption, there are many strategies to consider implementing to transfer growth outside of your estate today, as well as others to reduce or eliminate your exposure to estate taxes upon your demise.

Our dedicated estate and trust specialists have over 25 years of experience assisting clients with estate and gift tax matters. Utilizing that knowledge and understanding that each situation is different, we craft a unique and effective estate plan to maximize savings and create peace of mind for each client.



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