Aretha Franklin left no will when she died last week at the age of 76, according to documents filed on Tuesday in a US court, which could result in details of her personal finances being made public.
In documents filed with the Oakland County probate court in Michigan, Franklin’s sons – Clarence, Edward and Kecalf Franklin, and Ted White Jr – listed themselves as “interested parties.” One document, signed by Kecalf Franklin, checked a box indicating that “the decedent died intestate,” or without a will.
The sons also nominated Sabrina Owens, a niece of Franklin, to be the estate’s personal representative, a role similar to that of an executor. David Bennett, a lawyer representing Franklin’s estate, did not respond to requests for comment.
According to Michigan law, the assets of an unmarried person who dies without a will are divided equally among their children. Franklin had been married twice, but was long since divorced. Though wills are public records in Michigan once a person has died, the document itself often does not contain the kind of financial details that may become public as an accounting of her estate proceeds.
High-profile probate proceedings can drag on for years and lead to infighting among families, lawyers and others. Such estates can become especially complicated when it comes to issues like music rights. The case of Prince, who died two years ago and left no will, has led to numerous family disputes and even the revocation of a multimillion-dollar music deal.
Amanda DiChello, an estate lawyer at the firm of Cozen O’Connor in Philadelphia, said a surprising number of celebrities and wealthy people die without a will. “It’s easier not to address it, and it’s always the worst result,” DiChello said.
“Then it costs oodles and oodles of money to handle the mess after the fact.”
DiChello also noted that if Franklin had created a revocable trust for her estate, she could have kept her finances private and avoided the probate process altogether.
In her career, Franklin, known as the Queen of Soul, won 18 Grammy Awards and had more than 100 singles on the Billboard charts. – New York Times