Aretha Franklin Died Without a Will, and Estate Issues Loom

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Aretha Franklin left no will when she died last week at the age of 76, according to documents filed on Tuesday in a Michigan court, which could result in details of her personal finances being made public.

In documents filed with the Oakland County probate court, Ms. Franklin’s sons — Clarence, Edward and KeCalf Franklin, and Ted White Jr. — listed themselves as “interested parties.” One document, signed by KeCalf Franklin, checked a box indicating that “the decedent died intestate,” or without a will.

The sons also nominated Sabrina Owens, a niece of Ms. Franklin, to be the estate’s personal representative, a role similar to that of an executor.

David Bennett, a lawyer representing Ms. Franklin’s estate, did not respond to requests for comment.

According to Michigan law, the assets of an unmarried person who dies without a will are divided equally among their children. Ms. Franklin had been married twice, but was long since divorced. Though wills are public records in Michigan once a person has died, the document itself often does not contain the kind of financial details that may become public as an accounting of her estate proceeds.

And high-profile probate proceedings can drag on for years and lead to infighting among families, lawyers and others. Such estates can become especially complicated when it comes to issues like music rights. The case of Prince, who died two years ago and left no will, has led to numerous family disputes and even the revocation of a multimillion-dollar music deal.

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Ms. Franklin was private about her finances and sometimes asked to be paid in cash.CreditKeystone/Getty Images

Amanda DiChello, an estate lawyer at the firm of Cozen O’Connor in Philadelphia, said that a surprising number of celebrities and wealthy people die without a will.

“It’s easier not to address it, and it’s always the worst result,” Ms. DiChello said. “Then it costs oodles and oodles of money to handle the mess after the fact.”

Ms. DiChello also noted that if Ms. Franklin had created a revocable trust for her estate, she could have kept her finances private and avoided the probate process altogether.

Ms. Franklin, who had songwriting credits on some of her hits, including “Think,” “Dr. Feelgood (Love Is a Serious Business)” and “Rock Steady,” was known to be private and unusually protective of her finances.

According to a 2016 profile in The New Yorker, she demanded cash before performing live, and then often kept the money in a handbag that she kept near her onstage.

In her career, Ms. Franklin — known as the Queen of Soul — won 18 Grammy Awards and had more than 100 singles on the Billboard charts.

She also sang at the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009, and at concerts for Jimmy Carter in 1977 and Bill Clinton in 1993.

Next week in Detroit, Ms. Franklin will be mourned in a way usually reserved for heads of state. Her body will lie in state on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, and on Thursday at New Bethel Baptist Church. A private funeral is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 31 at Greater Grace Temple.

Original Article

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