The death of legendary singer Aretha Franklin has shined a new spotlight for many North Carolina fans on the complications that can ensue from dying without a will. When the 76-year-old star passed away in August after battling pancreatic cancer, she had no will or other estate documents, which could have a significant impact on how her heirs deal with the estate. Her niece has applied to be the executor of the estate while her four sons have declared themselves interested parties before the probate court.
Franklin’s estate is estimated to be valued at approximately $80 million. Her lawyer told media that he had advised her to create trusts and other key estate documents in order to reduce estate tax liabilities and ease the transition for her heirs. However, the singer never followed through. If trusts and other instruments had been in place to transfer Franklin’s estate outside the probate courts, the details of her legacy would have greater privacy and her beneficiaries greater protection from taxes and fees.
Franklin is only the latest celebrity to draw attention to the issues that can ensue when someone dies without a will. Other world-renowned performers like Prince and James Brown also passed away before making an estate plan. Eleven years after he died, Brown’s estate remains unsettled due to ongoing disputes. When people die without a will, state law applies to divide the property; in Franklin’s case, that includes control of her valuable music catalog.
Some people avoid making a will or other estate documents because they don’t want to talk about death or think about difficult family relationships. However, the benefits and peace of mind gained can be significant, both financially and emotionally. An estate planning lawyer may work with people to create key documents that prepare for the future and avoid unnecessary probate issues.