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Aretha Franklin Died Without a Will or Trust | Marietta GA Estate Planning

Aretha Franklin Died Without a Will or Trust | Marietta GA Estate Planning

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.

What You Can Learn From Three-Time NYC Mayor Ed Koch’s Will About Your Estate Planning


Three-time New York City Mayor Ed Koch died on Feb. 1, leaving an estate estimated between $10-$11 million.  And it’s a good thing that “Hizzoner” loved governing, because one-quarter of his estate will be going to the state and federal governments.

During his tenure as Mayor, Koch was famous for asking people on the street, “How’m I doin’?” He would have been better served to ask that same question to a Family Estate Planning Lawyer before he passed on.

In his will, Koch bequeathed most of his assets to blood relatives – a sister and her husband, a sister-in-law, and three nephews – as well as to his secretary and a charity.  And because Mayor Koch used a Will and didn’t put his assets in Trust, it’s all public. In fact, you can read the details of exactly what Mayor Koch left behind and to who right here.

When the former Mayor died, the federal estate tax exemption was at $5.25 million; and since his estate is estimated at twice that amount, Uncle Sam will net a cool $1.45 million.  New York State has an estate tax exemption of just $1 million, meaning it will receive $1.1 million from the estate, according to a Forbes article.

As Forbes notes, Koch could have made some savvy estate planning moves before he died by:

Creating a trust for the benefit of his nephews, who inherited the bulk of his estate, and their descendants.  Up to $5.25 million that goes into a trust would have been exempt from generation-skipping transfer tax. (And, would have protected those assets for generations upon generations. This was a big oversight.)

Making additional gifts up to $5.25 million right before he died could have significantly reduced his state tax bill, since New York does not have a gift tax.  This would have saved his heirs an estimated $600,000.

And there’s more he could have done as well, but he either didn’t get good counsel or he didn’t heed it.  Now, it’s too late.  And, of course, it’s all public.

If you would like to learn more about strategies to keep your money out of the government and the size of your assets totally private, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today and mention this article.