What We Can Learn from Prince and Aretha Franklin Regarding Wills

Q: Aside from being powerhouse musicians, singers, and piano players, what did Aretha Franklin and Prince have in common?

A: Neither artist had a valid Will.

A few years ago, you likely read about Prince passing away without having a valid Will in place. As Mark Eghrari from Forbes wrote, “What you may not know is why that is a decision Prince would most likely have regretted — and why it matters so much to his possible heirs.”

Prince died “intestate.” That is the legal term for a deceased person who does not have a Will to execute. More than two years after his demise, Prince’s heirs have not received a single cent of his estate, while tax attorneys have worked tirelessly dealing with the aftermath (and are surely making money on that work).

Aretha Franklin on January 20, 2009Sadly, Aretha Franklin also died without a Will in place. Her four sons have filed documents listing themselves as “interested parties” in her estate, which is estimated to be worth over $80 million.

Franklin’s attorney, Don Wilson, has publicly expressed his concern that the estate may be contested, and his hopes that such fights do not occur. Whether or not there is a conflict between the four sons, the late soul singer’s finances will automatically become a matter of public record when they are released to Michigan’s Oakland County Probate Court.

Marketwatch interviewed Cindy Kuppens, a chief compliance office and senior adviser at O’Brien Wealth Partners. Kuppens said, “It is so important for people to plan for the end of life because if they don’t plan for it, someone else will dictate how their assets are distributed.”

Unfortunately, the lack of a Will means that Franklin’s heirs — not just her four sons, but nieces and nephews and cousins as well — will likely spend the next several years paying attorneys to represent them. Having a Will in place, and ideally an estate plan, would have most likely saved many of them the expense and effort of hiring legal representation.