The probate process is one which most people prefer to avoid, primarily because it can become a massively painful headache for those we leave behind. No one wants to leave a mess for their family and friends, but such has turned out to be the case for the Aretha Franklin estate. When she died in August, the probate process began in earnest because no estate planning had been completed beforehand.
Now, no fewer than three handwritten wills have been found squirreled away in her estate.
This is a heartbreaking complication for the Franklin family, especially since the wills might be found illegitimate in the eyes of the law. We finally know a sliver of what Aretha wanted for her family, and it might end up amounting to nothing at all.
One of the handwritten wills was even found under a seat cushion.
This is one of the reasons proper estate planning is so important for large estates. Organization is key to maintaining one’s final wishes after death. Because Aretha failed to involve an estate planning lawyer when writing these three wills, her beneficiaries will undoubtedly be forced to fork over a tremendous amount of money in an attempt to steer the court system in the direction they want.
Handwritten wills are not always legally binding, which means family members might be forced to turn over direction of the estate’s assets and finances to probate court. The creation of these documents should be directed by a qualified lawyer, and it does not hurt to have them witnessed and notarized to truly cement their standing in court. Once written, they can be accessed online. Afterward, it is important to revise them as needed. For most larger estates, the documents might need to be revised more than once a year.
The key to successful estate planning is transparency, and that means ease of access. Your beneficiaries need to know you have a will, and they need to know exactly who to contact if something goes wrong. In most cases, the estate planning lawyer will contact the beneficiaries to complete the process. Aretha Franklin’s heirs were not allowed to enjoy this courtesy because they did not know.
Now, the burden is on them. Or at least it will be until the court decides what to do. If the handwritten wills are deemed to have no legal standing, then the probate process will kick the decisions about how to divide Franklin’s assets over to the court.