Lessons in Estate Planning the “Queen of Soul” Can Still Teach Us


When most of us think about the “Queen of Soul,” we think of the legacy that the singing legend created during her lifetime. In reality, however, this legacy has been left vulnerable by the lack of estate planning of the “Queen of Soul”. Upon her passing, Aretha Franklin did not leave a last will and testament or a trust agreement behind. This, unfortunately, opens up her estate to estate tax liability and leaves her loved ones unprotected and unprepared for how to distribute her assets.

While most of us do not have an $80 million dollar estate to pass on, estate planning is still crucial no matter the assets you possess. In light of Aretha Franklin, and other celebrities like Prince and Michael Jackson, passing away “intestate,” we want to share with you some questions our clients ask us about this process so you can better prepare and protect your loved ones.

  1. What does dying “intestate” mean?

Put simply, dying “intestate” means that you pass away without a last will and testament or trust agreement in place. It also means that you did not name any beneficiaries for your estate. Accordingly, your estate will be divided according to the intestacy laws of your state of residence. If you do not leave clear instructions for how you want your assets to be divided, the court will decide for you.

  1. Will my children be protected if I die “intestate”?

Unfortunately, the short answer is no. By dying “intestate,” you did not name a trustee for your estate. This means that you did not designate a person to handle your affairs and manage the distribution of your assets upon your passing. This is a crucial role, so it is important that you plan ahead and choose someone you trust implicitly to take on such an important task. Your children will also be left without clear instructions as to how your assets should be distributed, which can lead to confusion and rifts between family members. If you have a special needs child, it is especially important that you create a special needs trust for them that protects his or her government benefits and inheritance.

  1. If I die “intestate,” are my affairs still private?

Again, the answer to this is no. If you pass with no estate planning provisions in place, your estate is vulnerable to litigation and the probate process, which means the transfer of your assets will become a matter of public record. However, this can, in large part, be prevented through the creation of a trust agreement. This agreement will help ensure the transfer of your assets at death are kept private between the trustee and the beneficiaries.

We know this can be a challenging and uncomfortable topic to think about, let alone prepare for. Unfortunately, however, death is inevitable, and it is important that your loved ones are taken care of in the event of your passing. Do you have questions for us after reading this article? Do not wait to contact our office to schedule an appointment. We can answer any questions you may have and help you create the estate plan that best fits your family’s needs.