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  • Writer's pictureJenkins Legal & Advisory

Aretha Franklin died without a Will. Don’t get caught in the same trap.

The world is still mourning the loss of the original Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, after her death earlier this month.

It has now come to light that despite her legal and financial advisors pushing for her to get her affairs in order, she passed away without having a will or any form of trust structure in place. Her family is now faced with a battle over the assets she has left behind, with proceedings being filed in a Michigan court last week.

The debate over the estate will be particularly complex as there are ongoing monies that will be payable to the estate courtesy of royalties from her significant back catalogue of songs. This makes it virtually impossible to estimate how much the estate will be worth in the long run when determining what the appropriate distribution should be.

In life, Ms Franklin was a very private person. In death, however, due to not having the appropriate structures and documents in place, her estate and affairs are about to be aired for all the world to see.

Ensuring that she had a valid will, and appropriate trust structure in place, would have meant a faster, and cheaper, resolution of the administration of her estate. It would have also meant that Ms Franklin would have been able to clearly state who she wanted to have control her estate and who was to benefit from her estate. In Michigan, the law provides that in the event that an unmarried person with children dies without a will, the assets are to be equally divided between those children. Under this law, Ms Franklin’s estate would then be equally divided between her four children, which may not be an accurate reflection of her true wishes, considering that she also had a partner and other close family members and friends who she may have wanted to benefit. As such, it is likely that claims for a share in the estate will be made by others.

In NSW, we have a similar law in place to Michigan’s, called the “Succession Act”. Under this Act, if you die without a will (called dying “intestate”) it is clearly defined who will inherit your estate, depending on your family structure.

For example, if someone passes away with a spouse and children from that relationship, the spouse receives the whole estate. If there is a spouse and a child from a previous relationship, the spouse receives the personal effects of the deceased, a $350,000 legacy (CPI indexed) and 50% of the remainder of the estate, while the children are to equally share the remaining 50% of the estate.

As you can see, by not having a will, this means that the state decides who your assets are distributed to depending on your family structure, which may not be an accurate reflection of your wishes.

It is estimated by NSW Trustee and Guardian that over 45% of Australians do not have a valid will in place. Avoid any lengthy delays, expense and confusion over who is to receive your assets, by prioritising your estate planning.

If you need assistance in relation to your estate planning, please give Jenkins Legal Services a call on 02 4929 2000 or email

This article is not legal advice and the views and comments are of a general nature only. This article is not to be relied upon in substitution for detailed legal advice.


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