Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Discovery of Aretha Franklin's Handwritten Wills Throws Her Estate Into Turmoil

ArethaOriginally thought to have died intestate, two possible handwritten wills written by the musical diva Aretha Franklin have caused quite a commotion with her estate. The appointed representative is now asking the court to determine if either of the wills are valid under Michigan law.

The wills are seen as holographic, or handwritten, and must meet certain qualifications. They must be entirely in the testator's handwriting, must be dated, must be signed, and must have been intended to be a will. Two were dated 2010 and a third was dated 2014, and it unclear whether any of the documents will meet the other standards, being as they go off on tangents and are difficult to read. Two of Franklin's four sons are contesting the validity of the wills, and though a niece is acting as the representative, one of the documents appoints one of the sons to act as the representative.

All of this expense and turmoil could have been avoided if the diva had consulted with an estate planning attorney and put together a will and/or trust. With a good estate plan, she also may have been able to keep the details of her estate private through the trust instead of having the battle play out in public. 

See Discovery of Aretha Franklin's Handwritten Wills Throws Her Estate Into Turmoil, Elder Law Answers, May 31, 2019.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

June 27, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, Music, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Article on Hope Springs Eternal: Reforming Inheritance Law in Islamic Societies

IslamAhmed Souaiaia recently published an Article entitled, Hope Springs Eternal: Reforming Inheritance Law in Islamic Societies, Wills, Trusts, & Estates Law eJournal (2019). Provided below is an abstract of the Article.

Soon after Lajnat al-Hurriyāt al-Fardiyya wa-l-Musāwāt (“Committee on Individual Rights and Equality”) submitted its report in June 2018 to the president of Tunisia, Beji Caid Essebsi, the latter ordered the legislature to amend the 1956 family law to achieve equality between men and women in inheritance and property rights. Although the authors of the report had written forcefully about how Islamic texts (the Qurʾan and sunna) are compatible with modern law, some of their recommendations suggested a broad inclination to reform the law outside religious tradition and as part of the exigencies of the civil state. These events and ideas brought to the fore questions such as whether classical Islamic law is reformable or obsolete. This paper aims to show that interpretations of Islamic texts that result in radically different inheritance laws have existed since at least the third Islamic century. Inequality has persisted always for political and institutional reasons, not substantive ones.

June 27, 2019 in Articles, Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Aretha Franklin's Youngest Son is Seeking to Gain Control Over Late Star's Multi-Million Dollar Estate

ArethaKecalf Franklin, 49, the youngest son of the later singer Aretha Franklin, has petitioned a court in Michigan to replace his cousin, Sabrina Owens, as the representative of his mother's estate. At the time of Owens' appointment, it was believed that the diva had died intestate. Now, an unverified and handwritten will of the singer, dated 2014, has been entered into probate and named Kecalf as administrator.

Attorneys for the estate are challenging his filing, claiming that the son lacks the ability and the knowledge to manage such a sizable estate. Franklin left an estimated $80 million, with debts totaling $5.3 million. Kecalf claims that Owens has not provided the heirs with an inventory of his mother's assets and property, nor kept them up to date on an investigation into her music catalog. Owens countered that she has been handling her aunt's estate properly.

See Rachel McGrath, Aretha Franklin's Youngest Son is Seeking to Gain Control Over Late Star's Multi-Million Dollar Estate, Daily Mail, June 18, 2019.

Special thanks to Joel C. Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

June 19, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, Music, New Cases, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Penniless Care Worker, 31, Inherits One of Britain's Finest National Trust Stately Homes

StatelyJordan Adlard Rogers, now 31, said he had been suspicious that a famous aristocrat, Charles Rogers, was his father since the age of 8. When Charles died on his estate at the age of 62 from an apparent drug overdose, his mother passing away within 2 weeks, and his brother dying from cancer, a DNA test was finally performed to determine is Jordan was his heir. There were some "obstructive family members," Jordan said, but the DNA test confirmed that Charles was indeed Jordan's father.

Jordan left his job as a community worker to move into the grand 1,536-acre National Trust Penrose Estate, estimated to be worth £50m, and now lives off of the income derived from the estate. But he says he will not become complacent. "I don't need to work anymore so I want to set up a charity and help the Porthleven and Helston communities. I've been at the point of worrying about the next bill and have had a tough start in life but now I'm here I want to help people."

There are also some regrets about not performing the DNA test earlier. Jordan believes that if Charles had known he had a son, he may have made different choices in the last months of his life and had someone looking out for his well-being. Charles was reportedly malnourished, neglected personal hygiene and rarely changed his clothes in the months leading up to his death. He was also not living in the lavish home but instead sleeping out of his car parked on the estate.

See Emer Scully, Penniless Care Worker, 31, Inherits One of Britain's Finest National Trust Stately Homes, Daily Mail, May 20, 2019.

May 28, 2019 in Current Events, Elder Law, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 25, 2019

CLE on The Probate Process from Start to Finish

CLEThe National Business Institute is holding a conference entitled, The Probate Process from Start to Finish, on Wednesday, June 5, 2019 from 8:30 AM - 4:40 PM at the Hilton Garden Inn San Antonio Airport in San Antonio, Texas. Provided below is a description of the event.

Program Description

Handling Probate from Initial Notices through the Estate Closing

This "a through z" guide to probate is designed to take you from the first days of the estate timeline through all the steps of marshaling and valuing estate assets, locating and paying the creditors, paying the beneficiaries, and laying the estate to rest. You will receive the latest updates on the probate court procedure and tax laws, practical guidance from experienced probate attorneys on using spousal elective share and resolving estate disputes, and sample forms and checklists to speed up the administration process. Build a solid foundation for your probate practice - register today!

  • Learn the procedure, rules and practical steps to effectively administer a probate.
  • Determine what form of administration is appropriate for a specific probate case.
  • Clarify the order of inheritance for an estate when there is no will.
  • Locate assets and obtain ownership documents more easily with a list of local and online resources.
  • Get a complete view of the sequence of events that must happen before the estate can be closed.
  • Identify common actions that trigger malpractice liability and get tips for staying in the clear.
  • Get practical advice for honoring or contesting all claims against the estate.
  • Find new ways to resolve liquidity issues that delay estate closing and final distributions and payments.
  • Learn what common closing mistakes can allow the estate to be re-opened, and how to avoid them.

Who Should Attend

This basic level seminar is designed for professionals who want to be more effective in handling the probate process, including:

  • Attorneys
  • Paralegals
  • CPAs and Accountants
  • Financial Planners and Wealth Managers
  • Tax Professionals
  • Trust Officers

Course Content

  • Initial Filing in Probate Court and Estate Timeline
  • Law of Intestate Succession
  • Inventory and Appraisement
  • Probate Property vs. Non-Probate Assets
  • Handling Claims Against the Estate
  • Tax Reporting and Post-Mortem Tax Matters
  • Ethics
  • Sale of Property and Distributions
  • Final Accounting and Closing the Estate
  • Probate Disputes and Litigation

May 25, 2019 in Conferences & CLE, Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax, Gift Tax, Intestate Succession, Professional Responsibility, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

3 Handwritten Wills Found in Aretha Franklin’s Home

ArethaAretha Franklin died last August of pancreatic cancer at the age of 76, and both her lawyer as well as her family stated that she had no will or any type of estate plan in place. However, months after her death, not one but three handwritten wills have been discovered at her home in suburban Detroit. And they were dated - two are from 2010, found in a locked cabinet, and the last is dated 2014, found in a spiral notebook under the seat cushions of a living room couch.

Her longtime attorney, Bennett, filed the wills on Monday and claimed that he was unsure if they were valid under Michigan law. A hearing has been scheduled for June 12. A statement from the estate said two of Franklin's four sons object to the wills. The statement also expressed that a neutral administrator from the University of Michigan, Sabrina Owens, will continue to serve as the administrator.

Kecalf Franklin has filed a separate petition, claiming that Aretha Franklin wanted him to serve as representative of the estate in the 2014 will. He is objecting to plans to sell a piece of land next to his mother’s Oakland County home for $325,000 to pay off a debt to the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS filed a claim back in December, asserting that the diva's estate owed $6 million in back taxes.

See Ed White, 3 Handwritten Wills Found in Aretha Franklin’s Home, Associated Press, May 20, 2019.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

Special thanks to Jim Hartnett, Jr. (Dallas, Texas Probate Attorney) for bringing this article to my attention.

Special thanks to Joel C. Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

May 21, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, Music, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 17, 2019

Comment on Illegitimate Succession: Vestigial Discrimination in Wyoming’s Rules of Intestate Descent

WyAllison Strube Learned recently published a Comment entitled, Illegitimate Succession: Vestigial Discrimination in Wyoming’s Rules of Intestate Descent, 19 Wyo. L. Rev. 119-148 (2019). Provided below is an introduction to the Comment.

Although the first child is free, any person who becomes the biological parent of a second nonmarital child within the state of Mississippi is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a $250.00 fine and up to ninety days imprisonment. Indeed, until the state amended its “crimes against public morals and decency” in 2004, Mississippi required its state health department to report the names and addresses of every person “listed on birth certificates of illegitimate children” to every district attorney in the state. In Tennessee, county officials may indenture nonmarital children into servitude if it “satisfactorily” appears their mother “disregards their moral and mental culture, and either keeps or lives in a house of ill fame.” So long as it seems it would better the child’s condition, Tennessee counties can “bind out illegitimate children,” as apprentices even if the mother otherwise provides her children with sufficient clothing and food.

Notwithstanding these rather extreme exceptions, modern statutory schemes generally disfavor laws that create legal distinctions based on the marital status of a person’s parents, especially laws that deny rights to nonmarital children or perpetuate the stigma associated with the legal status of “illegitimacy.” This sentiment, however, represents a substantial evolution in social views that effected changes to important areas of law. Although Wyoming law reflects some of the legislative trends related to the rights of nonmarital children, the state’s laws of intestate succession continue to distinguish between marital and nonmarital children. Wyoming Statute § 2-4-102, entitled “Rule of descent; illegitimate person,” provides the “rule of descent of all property, real and personal, of any illegitimate person dying intestate” in Wyoming. Under this provision, nonmarital children are categorically precluded from distributing property to their fathers through intestate succession, even after the father establishes paternity by judicial determination.

Part II of this Comment begins with a brief history of the treatment of nonmarital children in state intestacy laws and in Wyoming’s rules of intestate descent. Part II follows with an overview of United States Supreme Court jurisprudence concerning discrimination against nonmarital children in state inheritance laws. Part II concludes with an examination of how most state legislatures have responded to these Supreme Court decisions by eliminating statutory distinctions between marital and nonmarital children, including the stigmatizing classification of “illegitimacy.” Finally, Part III challenges the propriety of Wyoming Statute § 2-4-102 in light of surrounding provisions, equal protection concerns, and current social models. Although Wyoming has eliminated the legal distinction from most of its statutes, the Wyoming State Legislature finds itself decades behind legislative and societal trends with respect to its laws of intestate succession. Accordingly, Part III argues that Wyoming should repeal § 2-4-102, which continues to label nonmarital children as “illegitimate,” both in title and in substance.

May 17, 2019 in Articles, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Article on Dismantling the Trusts and Estates Canon

WillNaomi Cahn recently published an Article entitled, Dismantling the Trusts and Estates Canon, Wills, Trusts, & Estates Law eJournal (2019). Provided below is an abstract of the Article.

This article steps back and reflects on how new perspectives from gender, race, class, and sexual orientation have challenged existing trusts and estates canonical narratives on a number of different levels, both in terms of deepening trusts and estates but also expanding it—that is, challenging core concepts of the field. Part I celebrates how new perspectives have challenged the core trusts and estates canonical narratives. These new perspectives challenge basic concepts of wealth and do the following: 1) bring in alternative conceptions of wealth and of inheritance; 2) question the biases of inheritance law as they reflect conventional social norms; and 3) contextualize the whole field so that it encompasses elder law, history, sociology, socioeconomics, and other areas. The second Part turns to the structure of wealth and its intergenerational transmission, drawing on sociological and demographic data to show just who is wealthy and how wealth transmission perpetuates inequality, Finally, based on asking what I call “the wealth question,” I suggest future directions that might lead to reexamination of some of the core tenets of trusts and estates: for example, wills may not be appropriate for everyone, and class differences in families show the need to include (or be more deliberate in excluding) alternative families.

May 8, 2019 in Articles, Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 6, 2019

Article on Dying With or Without a Will

WillNicola Peart published Article entitled, Dying With or Without a Will, Wills, Trusts, & Estates Law eJournal (2014). Provided below is the abstract of the Article.

For most people, the preparation for eventual death involves deciding what to do with their property. Should they make a will? If so, how, and on what terms? Do they have any obligations to provide for family members or friends? What if their mental capacity is diminishing? What happens if they do not make a will? This chapter will address these questions. It begins by explaining what happens to a person's assets if they die without leaving a valid will. The chapter then goes on to discuss the mental and formal requirements for making a valid will and what will-makers can do to minimize the risk of their will being challenged after their death. While the discussion applies to all will-makers, the comments on assessing testamentary capacity are of particular relevance to older people where capacity may be compromised or subsequently challenged.

May 6, 2019 in Articles, Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Aretha Franklin's Estate to Sell Late Singer's Property to Help Pay Off her Remaining $5.3 Million Tax Debt

ArethaThe estate of the Aretha Franklin, who passed away this last August from pancreatic cancer, has petitioned the court to sell a vacant block of land in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan to help pay off the singer's tax debt of $5.3 million. The land, as well as a house being built on the plot, will be placed on the market for $1.4 million.

It was also revealed last month that Franklin reported a missing check of $178,000 to Bloomfield Township police back in June 2018. The investigation of the theft remains open, and has the possibility of adding more animosity among her family and her estate. The police tracked down the check and spoke with the teller who had endorsed it at the bank, but they did not release any further details of their relationship with the singer.

The diva's estate attorney, David Bennett, claimed that she "always paid her debts" but she "did not immediately cash checks." He said in December that "She had a lot of (pay) checks lying around that she had never cashed. I had to have some of them reissued because they were so old. I don't know why she didn't cash them, but it seems that the IRS figured some of it as undeclared income and are going after it."

See Annita Katee, Aretha Franklin's Estate to Sell Late Singer's Property to Help Pay Off her Remaining $5.3 Million Tax Debt, Daily Mail, May 4, 2019.

Special thanks to Joel C. Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

May 6, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Income Tax, Intestate Succession, Music, New Cases, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)