Aretha Franklin: A song of warning

Posted by Gregory Singleton | Feb 15, 2020 | 0 Comments

Recent surveys by Edward Jones found that while 77 percent of Americans believe that estate planning is important, only 24 percent have taken the time to even designate beneficiaries for all of their accounts. This attitude is prevalent with everyone, from celebrities to those not touched by Hollywood's glitter.

Lack of estate planning

Take for example the estate of Aretha Franklin. A national treasure in the jazz scene, Ms. Franklin passed away on August 16, 2018. At the time, her estate was estimated to be approximately $17 million. In spite of the hefty sum, she died intestate, i.e., without a formal will. Instead, Ms. Franklin left three handwritten wills in her home – two in a locked cabinet and one under some couch cushions. (A handwritten will is typically called a “holographic” will.)

The first question, of course, is which will did Ms. Franklin intend to be her controlling last will and testament? Beyond that, the question arises whether any of the wills are even legally enforceable. While in some states, a handwritten will is valid even if it does not meet the legal requirements of a professionally made will. Minnesota, however, refuses to recognize the validity of holographic wills – instead, holographic wills are held to the high standard of any other will.

Court Battle over Aretha Franklin's estate

Aretha Franklin, of course, was not a Minnesota resident. But there are still certain requirements that a holographic will must meet. Moreover, other questions are pending. Her four sons have gone to court to advocate for one will or another. Handwriting experts have been brought in to help determine which will, if any, is that of Ms. Franklin.

On a side note, as there was at most nothing more than a handwritten will, and the estate is worth about $17 million, the estate will be subject to substantial state and federal estate taxes that might have been avoidable if Ms. Franklin had a proper estate plan.


Not having a professionally made will and estate plan risks that your wishes will not be followed upon your death. Fights over estates tend to tear families apart, something that can easily be avoided with a properly made estate plan. If you need counsel to help draft your estate plan, contact Signature Law for a free consultation.

About the Author

Gregory Singleton

Trusted Legal Advisor Gregory Singleton is a skilled attorney, experienced in both litigation and transactional work. He has tried multi-million-dollar cases and has negotiated multi-billion dollar contracts. With Signature Law, his goal is to make the law accessible to you, your families, and y...


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