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It is an all too common story – a family ended up in litigation because the mother had no will. But in this case, we all know who the mother is, and she was certainly rich and famous enough that this never should have happened.

A will is a simple legal document that is easily prepared by a competent attorney. They aren’t expensive. They are incredibly important. And almost everyone needs one.

Aretha Franklin is undoubtedly one of the biggest music stars of all time. She was incredibly talented. She was worth millions when she died. But despite all the resources in the world, she didn’t have a will when she died.

And because of this one simple (and all too common) mistake, her family ended up suing each other in court. The case drug on for years and just ended in 2023.

I can guarantee you that Aretha Franklin did NOT want her children to end up in court fighting over her estate. But that is exactly what happened. Use this as the world’s best cautionary tale explaining why you – yes you – need a will that is legally enforceable and drafted by a competent attorney.

If this could happen to Aretha Franklin, this could happen to anybody.

No Will for the Queen of Soul

When Aretha died in 2018, her family thought she had no will. If that had been the case, her four sons would have split everything equally.

But when they searched the house for documents, they found two handwritten documents that Aretha left as her final wishes. One was from 2010 and was found in a locked cabinet. The other was from 2014 and was found in the couch cushions. Yes. You read that right – the couch cushions!

Neither of these documents were prepared by an attorney. Neither was typed up. One was notarized. She signed them with a smiley face inside a big “A.” Both included irrelevant information (primarily negative comments about the various men in her life!).

These two alleged wills disposed of property differently among her sons. So her sons did what anyone does when this happened – they sued each other. They had a lengthy court battle that was finally resolved the summer of 2023 when a jury found that the later of the two documents – the one found in the couch cushions – was a proper and legal will under Michigan law.

Michigan law does allow handwritten wills (so does Maryland) but if the document does not otherwise comply with the state law for a will, it might get thrown out. In the Aretha Franklin case, her children were trying to throw out the will that gave them less money. They were divided into two different factions.

Do you really want your kids suing each other simply because you didn’t take the time and effort to make a legally valid will? It isn’t hard to do. Take a look at our Free Legal Guide for the details of what you need to decide about your will, and how to get it done.

So instead of Aretha Franklin deciding what happened to her estate, a jury decided it for her. They found the later of the two documents was her real will and contained her final wishes. This was only after a long court battle over what her real intent was. It could have easily gone the other way.

Conclusion & Next Steps

A will is your final words to your heirs. It is incredibly important to get your will done properly because you will not be around to clarify anything later if there is a question. That is why we would never advise anyone to do a will on their own. How do you know there won’t be questions? Or a mistake? If so, your heirs will have to sue each other to figure it out.

To say something obvious, that is not good for family cohesion. Your final gift to your children might be that they hate each other for life after a lawsuit! Don’t let that happen to you!

So, in case you have been putting it off, stop. You do need to get your will done and you need it as soon as possible.

Want to know more? Discover what you need to know about Wills in Maryland. Click here to see our Free Legal Guide to Wills & Estates and get answers to your questions today. Know your options. Be informed. Protect yourself.

Need an attorney for your will? Please contact us for a consultation today if you need an experienced will drafting lawyer for your will.

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