Aretha Franklin was the iconic Queen of Soul. The Queen of Soul had a symbolic career that lasted over six decades. However, in August 2018 Franklin had passed away without writing a will. Since Aretha Franklin was not married at the time of her death, her property was passed down to her four sons under Michigan law (just as it would under Virginia law). Lacking a clear estate plan can result in family feuds when administering the estate--especially in cases of sizeable estates of celebrities like Franklin. 

Handwritten Documents Found

Fortunately, in May of 2019, Franklin’s niece found three handwritten documents in Franklin’s home. One of the documents was locked in a cabinet, while the other two were found under couch cushions. The documents dated between 2010 and 2014 provided instructions as to how to divide the property after Franklin’s death. Although the documents did not have witnesses and were not notarized, they did satisfy the requirement of “holographic” wills under Michigan law. Under Michigan law, a holographic will require the writer’s signature, the documents to be written in his or her handwriting, and the documents must be dated. Despite these requirements being met, there were portions of the handwritten wills that were illegible and ambiguous. The validity of the handwritten wills is in question by Franklin’s sons, which means that additional litigation will be required. 

Similar to Michigan, Virginia law recognizes holographic wills when two disinterested witnesses prove that the handwritten will is written entirely in the deceased’s handwriting and signed by the deceased. Although holographic wills are valid under specific conditions, it is best to meet with a lawyer to avoid these problems upfront. 

An experienced Smith Strong, PLC attorney can advise you about your estate plan, prepare the necessary documents, and ensure that your wishes are clearly conveyed. 

To sign up for our free Estate Planning Seminar or schedule your first meeting with attorney Van Smith and his team, please call one of our offices at (804) 325-1245 (Richmond) or (757) 941-4298 (Williamsburg). 

H. Van Smith
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