A Tale Of Two Plans
A trial has been set for August to determine the disposition of Aretha Franklin’s estate. Initially everyone assumed the famous singer had died without a will. However, three hand-written documents were later discovered that appeared to potentially be wills, some under the sofa cushions, and their terms were inconsistent. In particular, questions were raised over who would be responsible for settling the estate.
A trial was initially set for the summer of 2020 to sort out the three documents, but it was delayed by the pandemic. During the delay, typed estate planning documents were discovered, suggesting that Ms. Franklin had consulted with an estate planner before her death but had died before the documents were properly executed. There was an 8-page will and a 23-page trust for Franklin’s special needs son. Initials were found on some pages, but there were no signatures or witnesses as required by law for valid testamentary instruments.
The August trial will resolve which of the four documents, if any, will be followed, as well as who will administer the estate.
The larger cost of failing to complete an estate plan is that Ms. Franklin’s heirs have been forced to wait nearly three years for their inheritance. In addition, there has been much unwelcome publicity during the probate process, including revealing family secrets that should have remained private.
Compare this to the results of the estate plan of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. There was very little written about her testamentary planning after her death in September 2020. On May 25, 2021, internet news service TMZ reported that Ginsburg’s meticulous will left $40,000 to her housekeeper and divided the rest of her personal property between her two adult children. The will named the two children as co-executors of the estate, so there will be no controversy on that score, and the estate should be settled fairly promptly. The TMZ report noted that Ginsburg may also have employed a private trust so as to shield the rest of her estate plan from public scrutiny. If so, the strategy worked.
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