You Guys . . . Aretha Franklin Died Without a Will . . .

The beloved songstress, Aretha Franklin, died on August 16, 2018, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, further solidifying my deep hatred of pancreatic cancer. Who doesn’t have a dozen memories surrounding Aretha’s massive hits like “Respect” or “Natural Woman” or Chain of Fools”? She was a glorious singer and songwriter and her passing leaves a void.

But . . . you guys . . . it is being reported that she died without a Will. And it’s not because she wasn’t familiar with the law. In fact, Aretha spent lots of time and money over the years, paying for lawyers to represent her in various disputes, mostly related to creditor issues. News outlets are reporting that she has an estate worth, roughly, $80 million. And probably more like $1 BILLION (with a “B) when they start making deals with the copyrights owned by her estate.

$1billion and no Will?

OK, so she didn’t tell us who she wanted to have as the executor or who should be the beneficiaries of her estate. Michigan law directs that the estate should be distributed to her spouse. She wasn’t married when she died. So, the estate goes to her kids in equal shares.

OK, so did she have kids? Aretha had four sons. Interestingly, she had two children by the age of 14. TWO KIDS. BY THE AGE OF 14. Reportedly, her dad was a preacher at a Baptist church that hosted orgies, which exposed her to this kind of stuff early on. Like, at 12. In any event, there are four sons. I have no idea whether these guys get along, but it seems like a recipe for disaster.

In interesting news, the sons petitioned the court for the appointment of one of their cousins as executor. Hopefully this unity will last throughout the administration of her estate, which I presume will take a few years.

Aside from managing her vast musical portfolio (meaning the estate will be tasked with defining her legacy for future generations – no pressure), the estate will also be responsible for assessing and paying the estate taxes. Unlike Washington, Michigan does not have its own separate estate tax. However, the federal estate tax will be an issue for Aretha’s estate. The current exemption is high, at $11.2 million, but her estate will clearly be over that threshold. The rate of tax for everything over the exemption is 40%, which means that – roughly – 35% of her estate (around $27,500,000) will be paid in taxes. Serious money.

I’m going to keep an eye on news regarding Aretha’s estate because it will just be really interesting to see the family navigate these complicated, expensive, and sensitive issues. Aretha might not have to deal with this stuff anymore, but she’s left a bit of a mess for her family. Another example of why a Will is so important to those you leave behind.

Published 08/30/2018.