Aretha Franklin was so hard-nosed in her business dealings that she demanded to be paid in cash before performing. Her heirs would not have it so simple.
Although she lived to 76 and was terminally ill with pancreatic cancer, the Queen of Soul died without a will.
As her four sons and other family members move on from Friday’s funeral in Detroit, they are left with the potentially tall task of finding out how many millions she was worth, and divvying it up, a process that could take years and is likely to play out in public.
Estate law experts expressed surprise, but not shock, that a wealthy person like Franklin would put off making a will until it was too late.
At least one of the singer’s attorneys said he urged her repeatedly over the years to draft one.
“I tried to convince her that she should do not just a will, but a trust while she was still alive,” said Don Wilson, a Los Angeles lawyer who worked on entertainment matters for Franklin for nearly 30 years. “She never told me: ‘No, I don’t want to do one.’ She understood the need. It just didn’t seem to be something she got around to.”
Laura Zwicker, an attorney who specializes in estate planning, but is not affiliated with the Franklin estate, said she sees it happen all too often in her work.
“People don’t like to face their own mortality,” Zwicker said. “I had a client who had a US$70 million real-estate portfolio who had had end-stage diabetes. He had plenty of conversations with me about estate planning, but would not sign the documents.”
Papers filed last week in Michigan’s Oakland County court by David Bennett, the lawyer who worked most closely with Franklin, lay out the few known basics: She was not married and left four sons, ages 48 to 63: Clarence Franklin, Edward Franklin, Kecalf Franklin and Ted White Jr. Clarence, the eldest, is incapacitated and is represented by a guardian. A niece of hers has accepted the role of executor.
Under Michigan law, as in most US states, the sons will equally divide their mother’s assets in the absence of a will, and so far no signs of conflict have emerged among family members.
Bennett did not respond to telephone and e-mail messages seeking comment.
Aretha Franklin’s friend Ron Moten, a Michigan businessman, gave the four sons some guidance in his speech at Friday’s funeral.
“Remember your family, and friends that have been with you for years,” Moten told the men. “Because you are about to meet a lot of people who will now want to be your new best friend.”
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