Aretha Franklin Died Without Leaving A Will- Why?

September 6, 2018



It’s happened again, another wealthy celebrity passed away and did not have a will nor did she have a trust set up. Aretha Franklin will be joining the dozens of other celebrities who also died without leaving a will. Big names such as Prince, Jimi Hendrix,  Pablo Picasso, Kurt Cobain, Howard Hughes, Michael Jackson, Sonny Bono and even Martin Luther King, Jr. all passed away without having a will.


Prince died in April 2016. His estate is still tied up in the courts. Not a single heir has seen a penny from the estate. Prince had one sister and 5 half-siblings. After his death, more than 45 people came forward as potential heirs to the estate. Others who made claims on the estate included entertainment advisers. DNA tests had to rule out those claiming to be related by blood. The people who were ruled out as a rightful heir now have a year to appeal the judge’s ruling. Ownership of catalogs and unreleased music found in vaults are being fought over. It may take years to settle this complicated $200 million estate.


Aretha Franklin died August 16, 2018 from pancreatic cancer leaving more than $80 million. For years, at least one of her attorneys had been urging her to make out a will and have a trust set up. Don Wilson, an entertainment attorney in Los Angeles worked on legal matters for Ms. Franklin said, “It just didn’t seem to be something she got around to.”


Aretha was not married, had four sons ages 48 to 63 and numerous other family members. Her eldest son is incapacitated and will be represented by his guardian. It’s reported that another family member, a niece, has accepted the role as executor of the estate. Her sons filed a document in Oakland County Michigan Probate Court listing themselves as interested parties to her estate.  Often, without a will, family members will take a disputed estate to probate court.


Ms. Franklin owned several pieces of property in the Detroit area that are worth around $2 million. She also owns the rights of a few songs she wrote. Ironically, her biggest hit “Respect” was written by Otis Redding whose estate receives all the royalties. Her awards, gold records, stocks, bond, cash and other business dealings she had her hand in will have to be evaluated. Who knows what may come out of the shadows, laying claim to her estate.


Everything Ms. Franklin owned will first have to be valued. This is a process that can take years.   The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will conduct an audit of all her holdings. Any back taxes will be paid first to the IRS. Her estate will be taxed at 40% for assets beyond $11.2 million.  If her estate is worth $80 million, the 40% tax will amount to over $27.5 million.


In the U.S. people spend $2 billion each year on probate costs. Many of these costs are needless. A qualified and seasoned probate attorney can set up a will or trust to help protect the assets you worked a lifetime to accumulate. Gantenbein Law Firm's attorneys are located in Denver, Colorado and can assist with your probate issues.


Our probate lawyers have the experience and knowledge to make you feel confident your wishes will be carried out and your assets are distributed as you wish. Having a well-prepared will or trust can help save your assets from costly court proceedings. We will create an estate plan and put in place other protections for your assets to ensure your wishes are honored. Our wills and trusts attorneys are experienced in drafting wills that can help avoid any probate issues.


If you and your family are facing probate, our goal is to make the probate administration process as stress free as possible.  Our qualified tax  lawyers will also make sure your will and estate will have the least tax implications for both you and your family, as well. Call us for a free phone consultation today: 303-618-2122, or visit us at

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