When iconic entertainer Aretha Franklin died last August no one knew there would be a contested will because the “Queen of Soul” reportedly did not have a valid will or another plan to cover her estimated $80 million estate.
That changed dramatically last month when her personal lawyer of more than 40 years revealed that Franklin had written three recently discovered wills by hand in 2010 and 2014 before falling victim to her long battle with pancreatic cancer. Franklin’s attorney correctly filed the documents with a Michigan probate court in charge of administering her estate. Now, a judge will determine which, if any, of the late singer’s handwritten wills is valid.
Franklin isn’t the first high-profile person to die without leaving clear directions on how their estate should be handled. Fellow entertainers Prince, Kurt Cobain, and Jimi Hendrix similarly passed away without a will or estate plan, which resulted in protracted court proceedings. Now, Franklin’s sons and other relatives are readying themselves for what may well be a long and expensive battle in court.
What Happens When There Is No Will?
Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon situation. Some studies suggest that more than half of U.S. parents do not have a legal will. Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer Brad Jackson is regularly called on by relatives of people from all walks of life who have died without a will, including lawyers, doctors, business executives, family business owners.
Obviously, having a valid will and/or an established estate plan will help surviving relatives avoid many of the legal issues that can emerge following a loved one’s death. But when that doesn’t happen, you will need an experienced lawyer to help you navigate the process.
When there is no will, a person’s estate is subject to administration through what can be complicated and expensive intestacy procedures under a court-appointed administrator.
Handwritten, Informally Prepared or Professionally Prepared Wills
Some people mistakenly believe that handwritten wills like those left behind by Franklin are all that’s needed to wrap up a person’s estate. That may be true in some instances, but such documents often lead to disputes about their validity and meaning like what is now happening with Franklin’s contested will.
Even official looking wills may not be enforceable because there are certain formalities and specific requirements for the creation of an enforceable will. Laws vary from state to state. Internet forms that are not specific to Texas or wills that are not prepared or executed in compliance with Texas law may be ineffective and rejected by a court.
A professionally prepared will and estate plan that is completed well in advance is the safest and likely least complicated and cost-effective way to plan for the handling of your estate. While a professionally prepared will has upfront costs, it will likely provide for significant cost savings and a more certain outcome in the long term.
No will, including a professionally prepared will, is bulletproof. Wills made after a person has lost testamentary capacity – the ability to understand and appreciate the nature and process of deciding how their property will be dealt with – or wills made under the undue influence of another person may be subject to a will contest and ultimately thrown out by a court.
Brad Jackson Handles Contested Will, Probate and Trust Cases
At the Law Offices of Brad Jackson, our attorneys have represented both plaintiffs and defendants in probate and trust litigation and contested will situations for decades. We regularly appear in probate courts throughout Dallas, Fort Worth and North Texas. Our team also maintains close relationships with financial professionals and estate law experts who help us protect clients’ rights.
Attorney Brad Jackson is a veteran of local courts who has been Board Certified in Civil Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization for more than a decade. Clients call on Brad based on his years of experience in high stakes will contests and related legal matters.
The probate process can be a minefield. Knowing which documents will help prove your case, meeting court deadlines, and presenting evidence in court is something that few people are capable of handling without the guidance of a seasoned attorney who has been there before. If you’re facing a will contest or probate and trust litigation, contact the Law Offices of Brad Jackson for more information about how we can help.