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Unfortunately, it is often easier to recognize the benefits of proper estate planning in situations where it wasn’t done. Planning one’s estate is actually a personal organization exercise. The fallout from failure to do so properly is demonstrated in the case of famed singer, Aretha Franklin’s, estate, recently reported in the New York Times. 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 her 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 entail 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 Request Consultation button at the top of this page or read Andrea’s bio.


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