For Consultation


Markham Office: 7030 Woodbine Avenue, Suite 500, Markham, Ontario L3R 6G2

Will Declared For the Queen of Soul

Unfortunately, it is often easier to recognize the benefits of proper estate planning in situations where it wasn’t done. Estate planning is actually a personal organization exercise. The fallout that results from failing to do so properly is demonstrated in the case of famed singer, Aretha Franklin’s, estate. Here are just a few reflections about the recent court case which decided that four pages in a notebook written by the singer in 2014 and found in the singer’s couch are Aretha Franklin’s true last Will:
1. The Court correctly considered the singer’s intention in writing the disputed documents. If she intended that the document found in the couch be followed as her Will, why did she leave it in the couch where it was unlikely that anyone would find it???
2. Four years of family conflict and tension. Clear planning, perhaps with a lawyer-drafted Will, known location of that Will, and a family meeting to explain any wishes and instructions left in the Will, had a much greater chance of preserving family harmony.
3. Having no Will or an improperly drafted one can mean that an Estate Trustee (i.e. Executor) has not been appointed to administer the estate. In Ontario, a probate court must officially appoint someone in that case. The cousin who had reportedly been selected by Franklin’s children to act as the estate’s personal representative when it was believed that Franklin did not leave a Will, eventually resigned because of the rift in the family.
4. If there is a possibility that the Will instructions will cause family disharmony, it is wise to involve a lawyer proficient in estates law to help manage and guard against the potential for an estate dispute. What were the clues that there may be estate litigation, including to interpret the documents that were eventually found?
a. First, the two handwritten documents have different instructions, and it is not clear whether she intended the later one to revoke and replace the first one.
b. Second, the types of assets in the estate and the way they’re divided also have the potential for dispute. Gifts of personal property like cars, furs, paintings, etc. may have sentimental value; on the other hand, they may not be valuable enough in the eyes of the recipient(s), especially when compared to monetary legacies to be received by other parties.
c. Third, the estate has a big tax bill that should be considered during planning.
d. Fourth, Franklin’s first child, Clarence, reportedly has a mental illness, such that professional estate planning may have been helpful and warranted. Thankfully, the sons all agreed to support him, but what if they didn’t? The declared Will apparently doesn’t force them to do so.

This list of issues is not exhaustive. If your personal circumstances entails any of these issues, feel free to contact us using the Request Consultation button located on any of our website pages.

Andrea Kelly, Lawyer, has extensive experience in wills, trusts, powers of attorney and estate administration matters. She provides clients with a high standard of timely professionalism and expertise, incorporating a very thorough fact-finding process. This is quite often enlightening for her clients and facilitates individually tailored services. If you would like to know more, feel free to use the easy contact form or read Andrea’s bio.

Property Rights in Human Tissue

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text] From time to time, one may consider who really owns or should own items that develop in nature. For example, should someone be able to own and sell water, flowers, air (or oxygen), or even land for that matter? Would the answer depend on where the items are located and whose labour and resources […]

Advanced Legacies

It`s not uncommon for parents to loan their adult children money to, for example, buy a starter home, pursue post-secondary education or finance a wedding. Unfortunately, many disputes have started amongst family members after the death of a lender parent over whether an amount given to one child is a gift, loan or advance against […]

Wrongful Death Claims

If a person’s death was caused by the negligence or an intentional act of another party, immediate family members can claim compensation. Those entitled to claim such benefits include the surviving spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters of the deceased. The terms “spouse” has a specific definition which must be fulfilled in order […]

Think Twice Before Accusing “Breach of Trust!”

Feinstein v. Freedman, 2014 ONCA 205, is a recent case that encourages would-be accusers of breach of trust to look and think deeper before declaring wrongdoing …the question put to the court was whether the children of the settlor of RFT, an inter vivos spousal trust, were entitled to have themselves appointed as trustees of […]

What is Happening to Our Families?

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text] As I recently searched and reviewed several cases for blog post topics, I became aware, or was more likely reminded, that there are many families that have very unhealthy dynamics which either surface or intensify upon the death of a loved one. Furthermore, there are many cases of historical sibling rivalry and animosity, yet […]

Conditional Inheritances

From time to time, testators (will makers) express their intention that proposed beneficiaries of their estate must fulfill a certain condition before receiving a gift under their will or trust document. Such conditional gifts are formally known as “condition precedents” and essentially are a provision in a will or trust that prevents the vesting of […]

When Sharing A Wall Becomes A Nightmare

There are many qualities to consider when choosing a house for purchase, including design, location, price and community attributes like schools, parks and recreational facilities. Interestingly, a recent story published in the Toronto Star entitled “Vacant house a nightmare for neighbour” by Jessica McDiarmid also reminds us that curb appeal and one’s would-be neighbours should […]

Estate Trustee Role Can Be Thankless

Many people, when asked by a loved one to act as an estate trustee, feel sentiments of honour often mixed with a sense of duty and obligation. However, performing the role can also be onerous, particularly if one wants to do a good job. Unfortunately, as Erna Schneider found out in Aber Estate, 2013 ONSC […]

Squabbles Over Estate Trustee Compensation

The work of an estate trustee can be a time consuming and often exhausting role, with the possibility of a wide range of tasks. Unfortunately, there continues to be disputes in some estate administrations as to how much an estate trustee should be compensated for their work. Objections about compensation usually come from beneficiaries whose […]