As a Marietta GA estate planning lawyer, I always end up scratching my head when I hear that another ultra-wealthy celebrity has died without an estate plan in place. Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul,” recently died of advanced pancreatic cancer without a will or trust. This means that her $80 million-dollar estate will have to go through a lengthy probate process—which could take years and cost her estate thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It especially strange that she didn’t plan since she had been ill for a number of years.  Franklin’s attorney, Don Wilson, lamented that he’d been after her to create a will and trust for quite some time before her death.  For whatever reason, she never did.

Since Franklin died intestate (meaning, she had no will or trust) her four sons and their families will have to wait a long time to receive their inheritance while the matter goes through the normal probate process. It is also possible that her estate will be contested.  Franklin’s attorney is worried about this possibility, noting that “every time [a celebrity] doesn’t leave a trust or will, there always ends up being a fight.”

Worse, her son with special needs will eventually receive his portion of Franklin’s inheritance outright when the probate process is complete. This will immediately disqualify him from receiving Medicaid benefits, which are often the only medical benefits available to individuals with disabilities. Nor will there be someone legally in charge, like a Trustee or Conservator, to help her son manage his money. His loved ones will have to go through another lengthy court process for the right to be in control.

I don’t know anything about the relationship between Franklin and her family, but all indications are that she loved her children and her grandchildren.  It’s hard to believe that she wouldn’t have wanted her accumulated wealth to go smoothly and directly to her loved ones. But as things stand, there will likely be people stepping up to contest the will which will drag out the probate proceedings and rack up legal fees that will greatly reduce the $80-million-dollar inheritance she is leaving behind.

There is a lesson here for all of us. Even though most of us will never leave behind an $80-million-dollar estate, our families will still have to deal with the same expenses and delays related to probate if we die without a plan.  You can make your loved one’s lives a whole lot easier simply by creating a will or trust.  If you need to put a plan in place for your family, call our office at 770-425-6060 and ask to schedule a consultation.

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