Aretha Franklin had three handwritten wills

Aretha Franklin died on August 16, 2018 after battling pancreatic cancer for several years. At the time of her death she was believed to have died without a will. It seemed that Ms. Franklin left a multi-million dollar estate without even a basic estate plan. Soon after Ms. Franklin’s death, a dispute developed between her estate and one of her ex-husbands. I wrote a blog entry on this story which is found here.

Additionally, materials were filed by the Internal Revenue Service in Probate Court alleging that her estate owed over six million dollars in back taxes and penalties. Subsequently, all of Ms. Franklin’s tax returns were filed, however, there was disagreement as to what the IRS claimed was income.

According to a recent online story, three handwritten wills have now been found in Ms. Franklin’s Detroit home. One of the wills was allegedly found under the cushions in the living room.

Handwritten wills create uncertainty with respect to Ms. Franklin’s estate

The most recent will from March of 2014 appears to give Ms. Franklin’s assets to family members. Unfortunately, the most recent will contains pages with scratched out words and some of the margins have phrases in them. Two earlier wills from 2010 were found in a locked cabinet.

Ms. Franklin’s four sons have not agreed whether any of the three wills are valid. Two of the sons object to the wills.¬†Furthermore, Ms. Franklin’s son, Kecalf, is taking the position that his mother wanted him to serve as the representative of the estate in the 2014 will. Kecalf is also objecting to plans to sell a piece of land next to his mother’s Oakland County home for $325,000. The current representative, Sabrina Owens, has not taken sides in the brewing dispute.

Ms. Franklin’s long-time lawyer, David Bennett has filed the three wills at Court. A hearing is scheduled for June 12.

Court may have to rule on the interpretation and validity of the three wills

In Ontario, a handwritten (holograph) will written entirely in the deceased’s own handwriting and signed is a valid testamentary document. However, crossing out phrases or writing in sentences on any will can lead to serious problems due to ambiguity or multiple interpretations or lack of compliance with formal requirements.. After the testator dies the beneficiaries may have to commence litigation in order to get direction from the Court.

Ms. Franklin’s story is an excellent example as to why you should have a proper estate plan in place and use a lawyer to prepare your will. Although more details are going to be revealed with time, it is likely that the Court will have to rule on how Ms. Franklin’s estate will be distributed. A Court ruling will likely leave some of the beneficiaries unhappy. This scenario may potentially develop into a bitter and prolonged estate dispute.

More on this story here.