Aretha Franklin, known as the Queen of Soul, died earlier this year. During her life, she was at the forefront of civil rights activism in the United States, was a talented actress and pianist as well an acclaimed singer-songwriter. She was an inspiration and role model to many.
However, as with any role model there were certain aspects of Franklin’s life which were not worthy of emulation. One of these is that she died without having put a valid Will in place.
This was not due to any failing on the part of the legal advisors acting for Franklin. Indeed, Franklin’s legal team reportedly made numerous attempts over several years to persuade Franklin to set out in writing how she would like her estate to be dealt with after her death.
This was also not due to an informed decision made by Franklin herself. It is reported that she did intend to make a Will.
It would seem that the chief reason Aretha Franklin died without having executed a Will is because she didn’t think she would need one…yet.
And so Franklin’s family now face the (very public) ordeal of having her reportedly 80-million dollar estate dealt with by the state intestacy rules.
Not everyone’s estate administration will garner as much media attention as that of Aretha Franklin. It is also worth noting that the intestacy rules (the rules by which a person’s estate is administered and divided up when they have died without a Will) are rather different in Scotland and Michigan.
However, there is one common theme in that whether you have an $/£80m or an £80,000 estate, whether you have a feuding family or a family where everyone gets on, the time, worry, hassle, uncertainty and expense to your family is greatly increased if, on your death, you do not leave a valid Will.
Clear instructions and the avoidance of an additional court process (required if you do not have a Will) remove one more painful aspect of administration for your family at an already difficult time.
Providing instructions in the form of a Will not only makes things easier for your loved ones, but ensures that your assets will be divided among the family, friends and causes chosen by you. If you are not familiar with the statutory rules, they may come as a surprise.
Aside for some specific, quantifiable rights, your children will inherit before your parents and siblings, and all of them will inherit before your spouse. Your long-term partner has no automatic rights at all. Writing a Will can provide peace of mind to you that your affairs will be dealt with as you wish, and certainty to your family that they have done what you wanted.
Writing a Will is a good plan, whatever the size of your estate. Of course, depending on what comprises your estate, the advice and considerations will vary.
For example, if we were advising someone like Franklin (or anyone with business or agricultural assets, or assets worth over £325,000 for that matter) we would want to discuss inheritance tax. There may be better ways to structure her affairs. For those of us who are not worth $80m, we might want to discuss ways in which our affairs could be structured to allow our families to retain a home, or a business, or even to ensure the dog will be looked after.
Writing a Will is planning for the future. Planning for your family and friends. Planning for the potentially unexpected. Sadly, you are never too young to die, and a Will can be written from the age of 12. Once in place, it is done, and you can forget about it in the most part, only revisiting it if circumstances change. If you would like to see how we can help you, please do get in touch at www.turcanconnell.com.
Catherine Guthrie is a Solicitor with Turcan Connell