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Stachler Harmon Attorneys at Law May 23, 2019

When Aretha Franklin passed away last August, it appeared that she had no estate plan -- despite the fact that she had significant assets, including her music catalog and memorabilia, which are likely worth millions of dollars. She is survived by four sons as well as grandchildren and other family members.

One of those family members -- a niece who was appointed as the estate's personal representative -- found three handwritten wills in her aunt's home this month -- two dated 2010 and one dated 2014.

While the "Queen of Soul's" home state of Michigan recognizes wills that "aren't completely compliant," as one attorney put it, there may be issues with what Franklin's intentions were when she wrote hers. They are difficult to read and don't appear to be final drafts.

Another estate planning attorney notes that if a will, even though it's not drawn up in adherence with the law, is "clear and convincing evidence of your intentions, it's a perfectly valid document. The court wants to do everything in its power to fulfill the wishes of the person who passed away."

The discovery of these wills could cause disputes over the estate. For one thing, the 2014 will names one of her sons to be her estate's representative. Those wishes apparently weren't known when her sons agreed to let their cousin have the responsibility after their 76-year-old mother's death.

It's not clear if or how Franklin intended for her estate to be divided among her heirs and/or other beneficiaries. Without a will, the estate would probably be split equally among her sons.

The attorney who's representing the estate told a judge that Franklin's family members "have been unable to reach a resolution" about whether any of the newly discovered wills is valid.

Here in Ohio, a handwritten (holographic) will may be considered valid as long as the person who wrote it was at least 18 and determined to have been of sound mind. It must also have been witnessed by at least two competent people.

It may be easier to jot down some wishes for what you want to happen to your property after you're gone than to put an official will -- let alone a complete estate plan -- in place. However, by taking this important step, you can save your loved ones considerable time, money and stress and help ensure that your wishes are honored.