benefits of estate planning - person holding burning currency bills in a fan-like arrangement

Aretha’s Handwritten Will(s)

Aretha Franklin has been in the news this week. She died last August without a will, and her estate of $80 million dollars has been tied up in probate court. It was announced several days ago that as some of her belongings were being moved into storage, three handwritten wills were found. As a second generation estate planning firm, Phelps LaClair is aware that this is not an unusual occurrence. We teach the many benefits of estate planning to our present and potential clients in the Phoenix Valley. Aretha’s unfortunate legacy is a case in point.


A Will, like a Living Trust, gives instructions for how you want your estate to be handled when you die. It often names a trustee or executor who will make decisions and follow the details and instructions of the will concerning the distribution of the assets of the estate. A valid will should be signed, dated and witnessed, preferably by a notary public. In the three Aretha Franklin wills that were found, none of them included a notary or a witness. The probate judge will need to decide on the validity of the most recent will. This will entail a long, complicated and expensive process.

There will probably be many claimants who come forth declaring an interest in the estate, as there were when Prince died three years ago. The eventual beneficiaries of Ms Franklin’s estate will also be decided by the judge. Aretha’s family may contest the judge’s decisions, but in all likelihood, the legitimate heirs will not receive any portion of the estate for years. Because it is a high profile case, the heirs will need to deal with publicity they may not want, and with the scammers and con-artists who feed like vultures on those who aren’t used to the flurry of attention.

They will also end up paying very expensive legal fees and court costs. This is like burning money because it didn’t have to be this way. Careful estate planning is the key to a better future.

Living Trusts

One of the best ways to avoid all of the drama and problems of a will is to create a living trust. With a living trust, the benefits of estate planning will become obvious.

  • A revocable living trust gives you control over the assets you will leave behind. You can determine the beneficiaries and the timeline of their inheritance distribution. This can serve to protect heirs who are minors, heirs who are financially irresponsible, and heirs who have special needs.
  • A trust that holds assets titled in its name is not subject to probate administration. This saves the beneficiaries the great expense and time delays that occur with an estate that goes to probate.
  • A revocable living trust can designate a successor trustee who will handle your affairs, should you become incapacitated. The successor trustee can begin to manage the estate immediately, ensuring continuity of asset management.
  • A revocable living trust protects the privacy of the beneficiaries, the privacy of the amount they inherit, and the timing of the release of their inheritance. It is a firewall against ex-spouses, creditors, lawsuits, and predators. Conversely, a will in probate is a matter of public record, so everyone knows who has received assets and what they are worth.

The benefits of estate planning

There are countless ways to plan an estate: from wills, to trusts, to LLCs, and more. Because we have helped thousands of folks like you, Phelps LaClair knows there is a best plan for every situation—including yours. Depending on your financial and family goals, you can maximize the benefits of estate planning. Let Aretha Franklin’s sad situation help you to act responsibly to manage your estate for the future. Give us a call and we will schedule a free consultation. It’s never too early to plan for later.



Images used under creative commons license (Commerical Use) 05/27/19   Photo by Jp Valery from Burst

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