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Aretha 'Didn't Get Around to' Making a Will

That could make things difficult for her heirs
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 2, 2018 9:48 AM CDT
Edward Franklin, son of Aretha Franklin, performs during the funeral service for his mother at Greater Grace Temple, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, in Detroit. Franklin died Aug. 16, 2018 of pancreatic cancer...   (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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(Newser) – Aretha Franklin was so hard-nosed in her business dealings that she demanded to be paid in cash before performing. Her heirs won't have it so simple. Though she lived to 76 and was terminally ill with pancreatic cancer, the Queen of Soul died without a will, the AP reports. As her four sons and other family members move on from Friday's funeral in Detroit, they're left with the potentially tall task of finding out how many millions she was worth, and divvying it up, a process that could take years and is likely to play out in public. Estate law experts expressed surprise but not shock that a wealthy person like Franklin would put off making a will until it was too late. At least one of the singer's attorneys says he urged her repeatedly over the years to draft one. "I tried to convince her that she should do not just a will but a trust while she was still alive," says Don Wilson, a Los Angeles lawyer who worked on entertainment matters for Franklin for nearly 30 years. "She never told me, 'No, I don't want to do one.' She understood the need. It just didn't seem to be something she got around to."

Papers filed in Michigan's Oakland County court last week by David J. Bennett, the lawyer who worked most closely with Franklin, lay out the few known basics: She was not married and left four sons, ages 48 to 63; the eldest is incapacitated and is represented by a guardian. A niece of hers has accepted the role of executor. Under Michigan law, as in most states, the sons will equally divide their mother's assets in the absence of a will, and so far no signs of conflict have emerged among family members. The documents make no mention of the value of Franklin's estate. The figure almost certainly runs into the tens of millions, but there will probably be widely varying estimates as her attorneys seek to downplay her wealth for tax purposes and the IRS tries to maximize the amount for its own reasons. Once the value is established—a process that could take years—the IRS will take any taxes owed. Wilson, Franklin's entertainment attorney, says she would not have wanted to see her finances publicly aired: "She was a private person."

(Read more Aretha Franklin stories.)

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