On August 16, 2018, the world lost a great artist when “Soul Queen” Aretha Franklin passed away at age 76 from pancreatic cancer. For boomers and many others, Franklin was an absolute artistic icon. Since her death in Detroit, praises have been flooding in from around the world, extolling her as an example of true artistic excellence.
An Unfortunate Example
Unfortunately, as CNN has just reported, Aretha Franklin was also an example of something less admirable: this multi-millionaire artist died without having put into place any sort of plan for what was to become of her estate. “Aretha Franklin had no will or trust at the time of her death,” the CNN headline shouts, which means that Aretha joins other well-known artists and celebrities including Casey Kasem, Tom Petty, Prince and Michael Jackson whose failure to plan for the end of their lives have created headaches and heartaches for loved ones, not to mention hefty fees for a bevy of attorneys.
No one yet knows the value of Aretha Franklin’s estate but it is expected to be significant. (According to a website called Celebrity Net Worth, she was worth an estimated $80 million when she passed away.) “When legendary singer Aretha Franklin died,” reports CNN, “she did not have a will or trust. Her four sons have filed a document listing themselves as interested parties, reports say. Independent news reports say that Franklin’s niece, Sabrina Owens, has asked the court to appoint her as a personal representative of the estate. According to this related article in the Detroit Free Press, Franklin was “intensely private,” but now the lack of a will or trust means her finances will soon become “very public” in Michigan’s Oakland County Probate Court.
“Never Got Around To It”
For nearly three decades, Aretha Franklin’s Los Angeles-based lawyer Don Wilson has represented her in entertainment matters. He told the Detroit Free Press that “he constantly asked her to do a trust, but she never got around to it.” As Wilson explained, “I was after her for a number of years to do a trust. It would have expedited things and kept them out of probate and kept things private.” Because Wilson served as Franklin’s attorney in copyright matters, song publishing and record deals, he assured the newspaper that “he would have been consulted about her holdings” if Franklin had done any estate planning. The assumption is that she died intestate – without a will or trust – which according to Michigan law means her assets are divided among living children. (Franklin was married and divorced twice, most recently in 1984.)
As we have reported repeatedly here at AgingOptions, failure to plan for the end of life creates a host of legal and emotional problems. Sometimes, as in the story of Casey Kasem, bitter contention between various spouses, ex-spouses and adult children left the radio star as a pathetic pawn in a family power struggle, being moved about from place to place in a media circus. Because Aretha Franklin died, she will not see the chaos that might result from her failure to plan, but it’s highly likely that expensive and time-consuming litigation is inevitable with so much money at stake. “Franklin’s decision to not create a will before she died,” says the Detroit Free Press, “could prompt a court battle over her assets by creditors or extended family members seeking a portion of her estate.” There’s plenty of precedent: Franklin’s attorney Don Wilson cited soul singer Ike Turner who died eleven years ago, and whose estate is still being litigated. “I just hope (Franklin’s estate) doesn’t end up getting so hotly contested,” Wilson told the newspaper. “Any time [artists] don’t leave a trust or will, there always ends up being a fight.”
Fear, Ignorance, Pride
Why do so many people, famous and otherwise, approach the end of their lives with no preparation and no planning? This is a question that has perplexed Rajiv Nagaich of AgingOptions for decades. “Sometimes,” says Rajiv, “I think it boils down to three things: fear, ignorance and pride. Fear comes into the picture because many people hate the thought of considering their own demise. Ignorance is sometimes the problem because even so-called smart people may not realize just how ugly and expensive and divisive a family battle over an estate can be. When brothers and sisters and step-parents and shirt-tail relatives go to war over mom or dad’s money, relationships become so damaged that they never heal.”
But what about pride? As Rajiv puts it, “Some people seem to have this attitude that it’s never going to happen to them: they’re not going to die, get dementia, become bed-ridden, and so on. This seems especially true of celebrities. If you’ve lived a so-called ‘silver spoon’ existence, you can get to the place where you refuse to admit your health is failing and you might become a burden to your loved ones, watching your assets drain away. For the want of a plan,” says Rajiv, “a fortune can be lost!”
You may or may not be dealing with a fortune, but regardless of the size of your estate, we hope you’ll take this story as an important reminder to get started planning for your own retirement. Let us offer you a perfect place to start: come join Rajiv at one of our highly popular, absolutely free LifePlanning Seminars. There you’ll discover how you can enjoy the benefits of one of the most comprehensive retirement planning strategies available anywhere: an AgingOptions LifePlan. Instead of you having to create five different “plans” to cover your finances, your legal protection, your medical coverage, your housing choices and your family communication, just one overarching LifePlan weaves all the elements together into a seamless retirement blueprint.
We offer LifePlanning Seminars throughout the Puget Sound area, so for a complete calendar of upcoming events, visit our Live Events page and register for the seminar of your choice. Don’t let fear, ignorance or pride rob you of the benefits of a well-crafted retirement plan. Come see what a LifePlan can mean for you and your family. Age on!
(originally reported at www.cnn.com)