Aretha Franklin Leaves No Will: What Happens Now?
Posted дээр 08-27,2018, at 02:20 pm.
Pamela Dabdoub Legal Specialist


Aretha Franklin Dies Intestate


In the wake of Aretha Franklin's death, her $80 million estate is on the line as she is yet another public figure that dies intestate. Franklin died unmarried with her surviving issues consisting of her four children, which all filed a document with the court listing themselves as interested parties in her estate. Franklin's estate has been assigned to Judge Jennifer Callaghan in Oakland County Probate Court where her estate will follow the statutory-probate proceedings.


Franklin's Most Valuable Asset- Copyrights


Aside from the customary estates, which deal with real property and assets, Franklin also owned copyrights to many of the songs she recorded and composed. The estimate of the value of these copyrights will most likely be one of the probate court's biggest challenges. The court must consider the potential increase in Franklin's net worth that happens when a high-profile artist passes due to nostalgia purchases of their work. Within hours of Franklin's passing, her album “30 Greatest Hit” reached the No. 1 spot on iTunes album charts as well as her hit song “Respect.” Danielle Mayoras, an estate planning attorney and author, estimates that Franklin's estate may quadruple in size in the wake of her death due to these nostalgia purchases.


Trump's Tax Act


The Tax Cuts and Job Acts of 2017, better known as Trump's Tax Act, will change the amount of tax exception that Franklin's estate will be subject to. Under the act, Trump doubled the amount of untaxable-donative gifts and estates to an estimate of $11.2 million per donor. Although $11.2 million only represents a fraction of Franklin's estimated estate, the Tax Act will be applied to make the first $11.2 million of the estate tax exempt.


Similar Instances


Aretha Franklin is not the first nor will be the last public figure to die without a will. Many celebrities, including the recently deceased  Prince, died intestate with estates valued well in the millions. Prince's estate was worth an estimate of $200 million. Over two years have passed since his death, and Prince's heirs have yet to inherit any portion of the estate. As of now about $6 million of his estate has been used to pay the executor and lawyers in fees and expenses.


What's next?


When an individual dies intestate, meaning without a will, the probate court takes over in handling the valuation and distribution of the estate. The probate court will appoint a person to handle any claims made against the estate, pay off all creditors, and distribute whatever assets remain under the laws of that state. Court filings show that Franklin's four sons, Kecalf Cunningham, Edward Franklin, Clarence Franklin, and Theodore R. White Jr. have agreed to have Franklin's niece, Sabrina Owens, serve as personal representative. Owens will have 91 days to compile a list of Franklin's assets which will be assessed by Judge Callaghan.


Under CA law, Franklin's heirs at law, which would be her four children, will receive an equal portion of the estate. Creditors and extended family will also have an opportunity to make claims against the estate. In the past 20 years, Franklin has been involved in claims with creditors for unpaid bills. It is probable that more claims will come to light now that her estate will enter probate. These claims have to potential to turn probate proceedings into a long battle that may cause the estate to be litigated for years.


As of now it is too soon to predict what kind of a battle Franklin's estate will encounter. What can be said is that proper estate planning would have expedited the distribution process and kept the matter private. In view of these situations, making no decisions regarding estate planning can be one of the most harmful decisions.


Pamela Dabdoub is an attorney with Anderson & Anderson LLP.  If you have any questions regarding this blog, feel free to contact Pamela at


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