Franklin family dispute

Fight over the soul singer’s estate demonstrates why it is so important to create a valid Will

When Aretha Franklin passed away in August of last year, she left behind not only a legacy of timeless music, but a multi-million-dollar estate, and four adult sons. What Franklin did not leave was a valid Will expressing her wishes about how her estate should be divided.

In September 2018, The Guardian reported that Franklin’s long-time lawyer had tried to convince the singer to create a Will and a Trust, but that “it just didn’t seem to be something she got around to do”. Like Franklin, many of us can put off and even avoid making a Will, not wanting to think about what might happen when we pass away. While it can be difficult to address, it is vital to create a Will in order to protect your loved ones.

As no Will was initially discovered, it was first thought that Franklin’s estate would be divided equally between her four sons, in line with Michigan state law. All involved seemed to be content with this. In a dramatic twist, several hand-written Wills were then discovered in Franklin’s Detroit home under a locked cabinet and sofa cushions. It is now up to a US Probate Judge to decide which, if any, of the Wills are valid and how the estate should be divided.

As has been widely reported in celebrity media, the discovery of the hand-written Wills has collapsed relations between Franklin’s four sons. The hand-written papers are scrawled and unclear, with some names crossed out, different executors named, and one note suggesting that Aretha’s eldest son, who has capacity issues and is represented by a guardian, could be left with less than his brothers.

In England and Wales, if you die without a valid Will, the laws of intestacy will decide who is given what. These rules are very unlikely to coincide with your personal wishes and could leave those closest to you vulnerable or, in extreme cases, out on the street without a claim to your property or savings.

The legal requirements of a Will are that it must be in writing, signed in the presence of two witnesses, and made by a person who is of sound mind and free from duress. In theory, this means that you could scribble your Will down on the back of a receipt and as long as it was signed and witnessed, it could be considered legally valid, something that Do-it-Yourself Will producers tout as a good reason to purchase their low-cost kits.

Unfortunately, as a Firm with over 125 years’ experience, we have rarely encountered a D-I-Y Will that did not require our probate team to sort out serious and costly problems associated with it. Franklin’s family are just one if many who have been upended by the lack of a valid Will.

To discuss how we can tailor your Will to ensure your loved ones are taken care of when you pass away, contact us today on 01273 604123.

How to protect your loved ones

It is crucial to receive experienced legal advice to ensure that you and your loved ones’ interests are protected after your death. If you have children from a past relationship or if you and your partner are unmarried, the law may not protect your children or new partner. The best way to be sure is to create a valid Will with an experienced Solicitors’ Firm. We will listen to you, discuss your circumstances, and create your Will with your unique needs in mind.

Your next steps

To discuss how best to protect your family and loved ones with a Will, contact us today to book your initial Will consultation. At your consultation, we will discuss:

  • Your circumstances and the factors involved. These could include things like setting guardians for children, protecting dependent adults, inheritance tax, or how to cover assets abroad. You might want to include funeral arrangements or other wishes in your Will, to take the added stress away from family and friends.
  • Your options – what kind of Will you need, whether to consider a trust, and if any other protective documents are needed, such as Lasting Powers of Attorney.
  • How we can help in the most time and cost-effective way.

Book your initial consultation today by calling us on 01273 604123 or emailing

Thank you so much once again for your exceptional service and efficiency in preparing both our Wills and our LPAs, we really are most grateful.

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