Aretha Franklin died without leaving behind a will, meaning that it could take years before her sons and other family members finally have a clear idea of how her sizeable estate should be distributed, Yahoo News is reporting. Complicating this is the fact that the Queen of Soul had a variety of investments, business ventures, cash holdings, accounts, and other assets that will need to be identified and sorted out.
Aretha was not married and left four sons, ages 48 to 63: Clarence Franklin, Edward Franklin, Kecalf Franklin, and Ted White Jr. Clarence, the oldest, is “incapacitated” and is in the care of a relative who serves as his guardian. Meanwhile, a niece is acting as executor of Aretha’s estate, which is almost certainly worth millions of dollars.
According to Michigan law, in the absence of a will, Aretha’s estate will be distributed equally among her four sons, barring any legal action. There does not appear to be any conflict between the four men, as of this writing.
Though there likely won’t be any conflict among her heirs, that doesn’t mean the situation is going to be easy for the courts to figure out her estate. That’s because she had so much money in so many places that it will require extensive research just to identify it all.
For example, Franklin retained ownership of the songs that she wrote. Most had only minimal or modest success, with the exclusion of the hit “Think.” Still, those ownership rights alone are worth a considerable sum.
She also owns property throughout Detroit, estimated for tax purposes to be worth $2 million, but by market value is likely worth at least twice that.
Meanwhile, Franklin’s lawyers are expected to try to downplay the value of her assets for tax purposes, while the IRS is likely to try to overvalue her assets in order to get a larger cut.
Unfortunately, the process is likely to be public, which would have been painful for Aretha; friends describe her as a “very private person.”
One of Aretha’s lawyers, Don Wilson, says he tried to convince his client to write a will, but she kept putting it off.
“I tried to convince her that she should do not just a will but a trust while she was still alive. She never told me, ‘No, I don’t want to do one.’ She understood the need. It just didn’t seem to be something she got around to.”
Meanwhile, family planning attorney Laura Zwicker (who is not connected to the Franklin estate) says it can be difficult for people to admit to themselves that they need to write a will.
“People don’t like to face their own mortality.”