Aretha Franklin Had No Respect

Franklin was rumored to have been an extremely private person who insisted on being paid, in cash, prior to performing. She amassed a fortune during her lifetime and her estate will continue to generate income from royalties and the use of her image. Her business acumen was reflected in the fact that, from very early in her career, she was guided by advisers. She even had an estate planner. Yet Franklin died intestate, never having finalized a will or a trust.


Franklin had been battling health issues for years. While she refused to publicly discuss her medical condition, rumors that she suffered from pancreatic cancer first surfaced in 2010. Had Franklin created a trust, her privacy would have been safeguarded because no court involvement is necessary for assets in a trust. Trusts are administered without the need for probate. Instead, the probate court will oversee the administration of her estate. Her failure to implement appropriate estate planning documents means that her assets are a matter of public record. Franklin could have preserved her privacy and designated someone with whom she had a relationship to oversee her estate with the requisite background to appropriately manage an estate of its size for the benefit of her loved ones – but she did not. Now it will be up to the court to choose an administrator.


The purpose of a will and trust is not only to appoint the manager of the estate but to ensure that a beneficiary’s share is handled appropriately. Proper estate planning may have reduced Franklin’s estate tax liability. One of Franklin’s children has special needs. Ordinarily, the share of an estate intended to benefit a child with special needs should be preserved in a supplemental needs trust. Such a trust ensures the protection of the assets and allows them to be utilized to enhance the quality of the beneficiary’s life without affecting his or her eligibility for governmental benefits. Franklin’s failure to address this critical need was a lost opportunity. This child’s share of the estate will not enjoy this protection.


Everyone’s circumstance is different. Like Franklin, some of our readers may have estate tax issues. Some may have beneficiaries who are under age or otherwise incapable of managing their share of the estate. Some have beneficiaries who have financial problems, creditors or are in bankruptcy. And some have loved ones who would benefit from supplemental needs trust protections.


Whatever the circumstance, meeting with an estate planning attorney whose practice is devoted to this area of the law is imperative. The same way as you would not go to a podiatrist for heart surgery, an experienced estate planning attorney is the best way to ensure that everything is done properly. We could say that Aretha should have had some “respect” for the estate planning process! Moreover, not only should the documents be properly prepared and implemented but they should also be regularly reviewed. This is a simple way to ensure that your documents accurately reflect your wishes, which can change over time.


At Berwitz & DiTata LLP we help you accomplish this goal. We draft the documents and then review them with you so that we are sure they reflect your wishes. We encourage you to have them reviewed every three to five years to make sure nothing has changed and that they still reflect your wishes. Call us to set up an appointment today so we can help you avoid the same mistakes Aretha Franklin made.