GRISMER LAW

Aretha Franklin’s Estate Battle Illustrates The Importance of Preparing a Proper Estate Plan

Aretha Franklin EstateOn July 11, 2023, a Jury in Michigan determined that a handwritten will found in the iconic singer’s couch after her demise was valid putting to rest a four-year litigation over the estate.

Aretha Franklin’s reported net worth at the time of her death was estimated at $80 million. Now, the estate estimates its assets are less than $6 million, including intellectual property rights such as music royalties, as well as cash, jewelry and property.

Aretha Franklin died in 2018 following a battle with pancreatic cancer. As reported by NBC
News, Franklin’s longtime entertainment lawyer had advised the singer to have a valid will and
trust prepared prior to her demise which could have avoided the estate battle.

Originally, it was thought that the singer had not prepared an estate plan at all. However, since
then, two handwritten wills were discovered, and it has been an all-out war between her children
over the estate since.

page 1 of Aretha Franklin willpage 2 of Aretha Franklin willpage 3 of Aretha Franklin willpage 4 of Aretha Franklin willpage 5 of Aretha Franklin will

Open PDF of Aretha Franklin’s found will.

Not only was the estate in limbo for four years, delayed by the pandemic and slowed by litigation, but the parties have likely spent tens of thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands, in litigation of this matter through trial.

In California, a handwritten or “holographic” will is a handwritten document that does not require all the normal formalities of a will. These handwritten wills are valid in California so long as they meet certain requirements; it must be written by the testator and signed by them before death. A handwritten will does not have to be witnessed nor notarized to be valid.

In the underlying litigation of the Franklin estate, the singer had prepared a 2010 handwritten
draft of her will that was found in a locked box and a 2014 handwritten will was found in the singer’s couch after her death. The 2014 handwritten will was significantly different then the 2010 draft. The primarily differences between the two documents were the ultimate distribution of the estate assets as well as control over the administration of the estate.

Following a short trial, a jury deliberated for less than an hour and found that the 2014 handwritten will was valid.

Years of litigation, hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees could have been avoided had
Aretha Franklin prepared a proper estate plan.

Regardless of the size of your estate, we at Grismer Law care about our clients and the legacies they leave behind. We offer free consultations for new estate plans as well as for review of previous estate plans. Many of our clients elect to schedule an annual check-up, but we
recommend reviewing your estate plan with an attorney at least every three years.

Schedule your free consultation today!

 

Heath Ledger Estate

Everyone remembers the tragic death of Heath Ledger in 2008 from an accidental overdose at
the young age of 28. His acting as the joker in “The Dark Knight” is unparalleled, even by the
1989 rendition by Jack Nicholson. My wife remembers and loves him best in “10 Things I Hate
About You.” Personally, I have watched “A Knights Tale” and “Lords of Dogtown” literally
100s of times.

While he is best known for his Oscar and Academy Award winning acting, most people did not know the controversy that arose following his demise regarding his estate. In 2003, during his rise to fame, Heath Ledger prepared a Last Will and Testament declaring that he was domiciled in Australia. At the time, he was unmarried, and he had no children. Therefore, in the event of his demise, Heath bequeathed his entire estate to his parents and his siblings, to be divided equally. Had he not prepared an estate plan, he would have died intestate, and his estate would have passed completely to his parents.

Heath Ledger Estate

Now, I- like most of you- understand that life happens. And when life happens, many things can fall to the wayside. Most people after they create an estate plan never bother to revisit it.

Regardless of my personal plea with every client to follow up with me every two to five years,
very few take me up on the offer. I do not charge for consultations, nor do I charge to simply
review an estate plan.

Personally, as an experienced estate planning and litigation attorney, I always contemplate
unborn children and grandchildren when I prepare estate plans for clients, even where it may be
unlikely or far into the future. Why? Because so many people prepare an estate plan and
completely forget about it. We are human and love to live life in the present. Unfortunately, it is
my job to look into the future and protect a client’s legacy and make sure it is distributed
according to the client’s wishes.

Forgetting about one’s estate plan is likely what happened to Heath. In 2005, Heath and his then
partner Michelle Williams, best known for her time on Dawson’s Creek, gave birth to their
daughter Matilda. Heath died a little over two years later.

At the time of Heath Ledger’s death in 2008, he never revisited and amended his estate plan to
provide for Matilda.

Technically, pursuant to Heath’s estate plan, the estate was to be divided equally between his
parents and siblings. As his will was probated in Australia, there were obvious issues that arose
during the administration that could have resulted in Matilda being left out. This would likely not
have been Heath’s wishes. Eventually, Heath’s parents and siblings decided to leave the entire
estate, valued at over 20 million, to Matilda, to be held in trust for her benefit.

While I cannot comment on the law in Australia, there could have been a very different ending to
this story. In California, there exists several statutes protecting the rights of Omitted Spouses and
Children. Generally, in the event a testamentary instrument such as a will or trust fails to provide
for a child of decedent, born or adopted after the execution of all decedent’s testamentary instruments, the child would be entitled to a portion of the estate as if the decedent had died without having executed any testamentary instrument. See Probate Code § 21620 et seq. For an omitted spouse, the relevant Probate Code § 21610.

While there are exceptions, such as if in the event the decedent 1) intentionally excluded the
omitted heir, which is clear from the testamentary documents, 2) the heir was provided for
outside of the testamentary documents such as beneficiary upon death to accounts or life
insurance proceeds, 3) in the event of a omitted child, the estate is substantially bequeathed to the
parent of the child, or 4) in the event of an omitted spouse there is a valid agreement such as a
prenuptial/antenuptial agreement.

While this story ultimately ended up having a happy ending, the outcome could have been very
different and heartbreaking. Estate planning is not just for older people. Unfortunately, and all
too often, younger people pass away. Everyone, old and young should have some type an estate
plan in place to protect their family legacy, no matter how small.

We at Grismer Law care about our clients and the legacies they leave behind. We offer
free consultations for new estate plans as well as for review of previous estate plans. Many of our
clients elect to schedule an annual check-up, but we recommend reviewing your estate plan with
an attorney at least every three years.

Schedule your free consultation today!

Probating an Estate – Avoid These Common Mistakes

Probating an estate can be complicated. Navigating the probate of estates can be intimidating, but with the right knowledge and guidance, it doesn’t have to be. Get insights and tips on filing paperwork, gathering necessary documents and avoiding common mistakes in this comprehensive guide to probate of estates. While avoiding probate is the goal, sometimes things happen. It is important to have somebody on your side during this process. We specialize in probate of estates, so give us a call to discuss your options.

Lack of Estate Planning prior to probating an estate

One of the most common mistakes made in probate is the lack of estate planning prior to death. Without an updated estate plan, a personal representative may have difficulty properly distributing assets among family members and other beneficiaries. Additionally, if there are any discrepancies with creditors or tax authorities, those claims must be entertained or paid before assets are distributed according to the original will. It is critical to update your estate plan every 5 years or whenever circumstances change in order to avoid these risks and issues.

Inadequate Preparation of Court Filings

Many people make the mistake of skipping necessary steps when filing paperwork with the applicable court. In order to properly administrate a probate, all necessary documents must be in order and include vital information such as correct names and addresses for executors and beneficiaries. Additionally, any executed wills or codicils must also be submitted along with appropriate fees. Improper preparation of these items can delay resolution of the estate or even result in it being rejected in some cases.

Common mistakes to avoid when probating estate

Failure to Identify and Notify All Beneficiaries

It is essential to identify and properly notify all beneficiaries when probating an estate, as even the omission of a single beneficiary may result in legal problems later on. Beneficiaries must be listed with the correct name and current address, as notification letters will be sent to confirm their stated interests in the estate. Otherwise, something as simple as a misspelled name can lead to costly court proceedings down the line.

Misunderstanding Taxes and Other Obligations due to the Estate

During the probate process, it is important to accurately identify and pay all taxes, fees, and other obligations owed by the estate. Depending on how complicated these matters are, they may require the services of a professional tax advisor or accountant. Furthermore, it is wise to remain aware of state and federal deadlines associated with such obligations, as failure to meet these could lead not only to fines but even possible criminal charges when probating an estate.

The executor of the estate is responsible for filing the applicable tax and other forms, as well as for remitting any obligations due. This can be an especially intricate process when more than one state is involved or when a decedent held property in multiple states. For those cases, expertise from a professional may be warranted to ensure all necessary procedures are followed correctly and efficiently. Doing this will help both the executor and beneficiaries avoid time-consuming mistakes that could leave them vulnerable to costly penalties down the road.

Neglecting Inventorying Assets and Debts Owed by the Estate

One of the most common mistakes made in probate is neglecting to inventory assets and debts. It is important that all assets and liabilities be identified, adequately described, and accurately valued. Without an accurate accounting of what belongs to the estate, it is difficult to properly administer the process – underestimating assets or liabilities could result in either inadequate recovery for creditors or unjustly enriching one or more heirs. Additionally, for estates with large amounts of money or property, professional appraisals may need to be conducted to ensure a proper assessment of value.

Guide to Orange County Estate Planning

Estate planning in Orange County is a smart move to ensure your finances and assets are secure. This guide provides information on necessary steps to get started with estate planning, from understanding the benefits of creating a will to setting up trusts and navigating taxes.

Understand the Estate Planning Process

Estate planning includes identifying and arranging for management of your personal, financial, and health care decisions. It also involves protecting your real estate and transferring assets to heirs. To ensure there are no surprises down the road, it’s important to create a plan that considers the unique needs of each individual. This includes making sure there is access to sufficient funds during the person’s lifetime, creating comprehensive legal documents, and transferring assets in alignment with the individual’s wishes.

When you work with an experienced estate planning attorney in Orange County, you can have the peace of mind that comes with knowing your wishes will be respected and your assets will be protected. Your attorney can explain how your estate will be taxed and provide advice on how to eliminate or reduce these taxes as much as possible. They can also review existing documents and make sure they meet your current needs and comply with state laws, and inform you of any changes you need to make. Additionally, an estate planning attorney can help ensure that all of your assets are transferred according to your chosen heirs in a timely manner.

Assess Your Financial Needs

Before you start estate planning, it’s important to assess your financial needs. This includes analyzing your current financial position, evaluating the amount of income required for retirement and other long-term goals, and considering potential liabilities like taxes. It’s also important to look at potential life changes that could happen in the future such as job loss or illness. All of these things should be taken into consideration when creating an estate plan.

Once you’ve assessed your financial needs, the next step is to create an estate plan. When creating an estate plan, you should consult a qualified attorney who specializes in estate planning and can provide experienced advice about important matters like taxes, wills, trusts and other legal issues. An experienced attorney can help you make sure your assets are designated properly and that all legal documents are signed correctly. They can also ensure that your wishes are carried out after death according to state law. A comprehensive estate plan will provide peace of mind knowing that your family will have the resources they need when it’s time to make major decisions.

Create Legal Documents for Your Estate Plan

Once you have a clear picture of your financial goals, you need to create the legal documents that make up your estate plan. This includes creating a will, setting up powers of attorney, and deciding on health care directives. These documents should be prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney in order to ensure accuracy and compliance with state laws. Additionally, any changes should be reviewed regularly and updated as needed.

One of the most important documents in any estate plan is the will. This document outlines the distribution of your assets and ensures that your wishes are carried out after you pass away. Your will should also include provisions for a guardian should any children be underage when you die. It is important to meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that all documents are legally binding and comply with state laws. Additionally, these documents should be updated periodically or as needed in order to maintain compliance with changing laws and financial circumstances.

Make Smart Tax Decisions for Your Estate Plan

Estate planning also involves making tax-smart decisions for your estate. Consider how taxes could affect the disposition of your assets, and look for ways to minimize your tax burden upon death. Your attorney can help you explore various strategies, such as revocable trusts, gifting programs, charitable remainder trusts, or life insurance. Additionally, consider whether certain asset classes could benefit from certain types of ownership structures and what type of applicable exemptions are available to you.
It is important to work with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney who can offer insight about the various tax implications associated with different types of assets and ownership strategies. Tax liability, federal or state estate taxes, capital gains taxes, and other considerations can significantly impact how your assets will be allocated after your death. An experienced attorney can help you plan for these contingencies and develop a comprehensive estate plan that reflects your financial goals and objectives.

Some common estate planning questions

What are the 7 steps in the estate planning process?

Answer: The 7 steps in the estate planning process include: Gathering financial information; Determining your goals and objectives; Choosing an estate planning attorney; Selecting beneficiaries; Determine tax implications; Creating the plan; Reviewing & Updating.

What are the 5 Components Of Estate Planning?

Answer: The five components of estate planning are wills and trusts, asset protection techniques, long-term care strategies, financial planning, and philanthropic strategies. Each component of estate planning aims to protect individuals’ assets and provide for their families should something happen to them.

What is the difference between will and estate planning?

Answer: The main difference between will and estate planning is that a will is generally seen as a document or statement delineating how an individual wishes for their estate to be distributed upon death. Estate planning on the other hand, is the process of organizing your finances and making decisions about what should happen to your assets in case of unforeseen circumstances such as disability, death or incapacitation.

Living Trust

A living trust is a legal document that lets you name someone other than yourself as the owner of your property. This makes it easier for your heirs to inherit your wealth after you die.

What Is a Living Trust?

A living trust is an arrangement where you transfer ownership of your property to trustees who manage it for you until you die. This means that you retain control of your money and assets during your lifetime. After you pass away, the trustees will distribute your assets according to your wishes.

If you want to avoid probate court, a living trust is a smart choice. Probate court proceedings take place after you die, which means that your estate must be settled before you go into the afterlife. With a living trust, however, your beneficiaries receive your assets immediately upon your death.

A living trust is a legal document that allows you to transfer property from one person to another without going through probate court. The most common use of a living trust is to protect your assets from creditors while you’re alive. Once you pass away, your beneficiaries receive your property directly. You can set up a living trust at any age, but it’s especially useful if you own real estate or other valuable assets.

If you want to create a living trust, you’ll first need to decide who should be the trustee (the person who manages your trust). Next, you’ll need to draft a trust agreement. Finally, you’ll need to file the trust documents with the state where you live.

A living trust is a legal document that allows you to transfer assets to beneficiaries without probate court proceedings. The process is simple: You name one or more people as trustees, then you write a trust agreement that describes what happens to your property after you die. Once you’ve drafted the trust agreement, you can sign it and file it with the state where you reside.

Why should I consider one? And what does it mean for me? This article will answer these questions and more.

If you have accumulated significant wealth, you might want to consider setting up a living trust. It allows you to make gifts to family members, charities, and other individuals while protecting your assets from creditors and taxes. You also avoid having to pay estate tax on your assets at death.

A living trust is a legal document that sets up a separate fund for your heirs. The trustee manages the funds until you die, then distributes them according to your wishes. In addition to avoiding probate fees and taxes, a living trust can help protect your assets from lawsuits and creditors. For example, if you own a business and become involved in a lawsuit, your personal assets won’t be affected. However, if you leave your business to your children, your creditors could seize those assets. With a living trust, you can transfer ownership of your business to your children without affecting your personal assets.

A living trust is a type of revocable trust. Revocable trusts allow you to change your mind at any time. When you set up a living trust, you appoint yourself as the trustee. As long as you remain alive, you can decide who gets your money and how much each person receives. After you pass away, your beneficiaries receive whatever money remains in the trust.

Why Should You Consider One?

If you own real estate, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, or other financial assets, you should consider creating a living trust. There are several reasons why you might choose to do so. First, a living trust allows you to avoid probate court proceedings when you die. Probate court proceedings are expensive and time consuming. They involve filing paperwork with courts, paying fees, and waiting months or years before receiving any distribution of your assets.

A living trust is a legal document that transfers ownership of your property from yourself to a trustee (someone who manages your property while you’re alive). The trustee then distributes your assets according to your instructions. When you create a living trust, you transfer ownership of your property to the trustee. In return, the trustee agrees to manage your property for you during your lifetime. After you pass away, the trustee distributes your property according to your wishes.

What Does It Mean For Me?

Creating a living trust means that your assets will pass directly to your beneficiaries without going through probate court. This process takes place after you die. You can also name yourself as trustee of the trust, which means that you will manage the assets while you are alive.