New York fans of singer Aretha Franklin might not know that she died without leaving a will or any kind of estate plan. She had four sons, and they have filed as interested parties. Her niece has filed a request to be named executor of the estate.
Franklin’s longtime lawyer said he tried to get her to set up a trust. If she had, the details of her estate, which has an estimated worth of $80 million, could have been kept private and the process might have been faster. The result is that the state of Michigan will decide what happens to her assets based on state law. Franklin is one of a number of celebrities who have died without creating an estate plan. Singer James Brown is another, and his estate has been tied up in litigation for 11 years.
Franklin’s children will be considered her heirs, but because her estate is valued at more than $11.8 million, there will be a significant federal tax bill with a flat rate of 40 percent. This will be due in less than a year. Estate planning could have reduced the size of this tax bill and could also have allowed for charitable planning. Memorabilia, which celebrities may leave for museums, will probably go to her children. Another issue is illiquid assets such as royalties and copyrights.
Even people who are not wealthy celebrities need wills. The document appoints someone, usually a family member, to act as an executor. If there is no will, someone can petition for this role as in Franklin’s case. That person can seek financial and legal assistance as necessary. The estate must go through probate unless everything has been placed in a trust. If there are challenges or the will is unclear, this could slow the process.