The Law Office of Daniel J. Anderson - July 2020

JULY 2020

IAAndersonLaw.com | 319-899-1492 | 425 Second St. SE, Suite 1150, Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401

Lessons FromAretha Franklin’s Estate Planning Mistakes The Icon’s Family’s Turmoil Continues Years After Her Death

Aretha Franklin was a singer, songwriter, pianist, civil rights activist, Presidential Medal of Freedom winner ... and an unskilled estate planner. With all of her accomplishments, we are willing to forgive that last attribute, but Aretha Franklin’s estate plan is a great study in what not to do when it comes to dictating your final wishes. When Franklin passed away in August 2018, it initially appeared she didn’t leave a will. She apparently did not leave directions about how to respect her final wishes for the estate. However, months later, two alleged wills were discovered locked in a cabinet in her home. To further complicate matters, a third alleged will was found under the cushions of her living room couch. None of them had been formally prepared by an attorney. Thus began a legal battle that continues to this day. No longer united, Franklin’s family has fought over numerous issues, including who has the legal authority to serve as an executor, administrative fees the estate has paid, legal fees, the future ownership of her homes, the rights to her music royalties and memorabilia, and millions of dollars of other assets. Moreover, one of Franklin’s children allegedly has special needs, and her purported instructions for his care may or may not be implemented. The legal battle likely won’t be resolved until a court decides which, if any, of the three wills is authentic and, therefore, legally dictates the administration of her estate and the allocation of her assets. All of this could have been avoided if Franklin had gone to an estate planning attorney to help her prepare and execute her will. Although testamentary laws differ in every state, specific requirements must always be met to create a

legally valid will. For example, in Iowa, a will is only valid if it is in writing. Long-standing verbal promises or last-minute hospital declarations will not control how a person’s assets are distributed upon their death. Additionally, wills must be signed in the presence of two qualified witnesses who also sign the document. Because of some limitations on inheritances, I recommend the witnesses not be individuals who would receive an inheritance under the will. While not required, I encourage people to retain an attorney before attempting to draft a will on their own. Utilizing the expertise of an attorney ensures your will is legally valid and helps you avoid confusion, expensive litigation, and undesired distribution of your assets. I also recommend a self-proving affidavit, which allows a will to be probated without the legal filing of affidavits from witnesses. Finally, an attorney can help make sure you and your loved ones don’t pay unnecessary taxes and that your assets are distributed in a legally permissible way.

Franklin. The consequences of her failure to do so continue to cause animosity and uncertainty for her family, even years after her death. Perhaps she thought she had done it correctly on her own and her good health would remain with plenty of time to call a lawyer in the future. However, in these ever-changing times, it is important to make sure your estate plans are up to date — because even if we think we’re healthy and vibrant now, eventually a change is gonna come. Aretha Franklin’s estate planning woes serve as a cautionary tale of the risks of going it alone, without proper legal guidance. Please note my office is open for appointments only. I continue to meet with clients in person as necessary, but I am happy to visit with you over the phone to discuss any legal concerns you may have. You can call me at 319-899-1492 or reach me via email at Dan@ LAAndersonLaw.com . P.S. In case you missed the title of an Aretha Franklin song in the article, look again — there are seven of them. -Dani l J. Anderson

Picking up the phone to call an attorney is as easy for you as it would have been for Aretha

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