Many people in Georgia love the music of Aretha Franklin, known widely as the Queen of Soul. However, like many celebrities, she did not leave behind a clear estate plan to distribute her valuable assets among her family members. Franklin’s experience may highlight the importance of estate planning to avoid a lengthy, costly probate process for loved ones left behind. After Franklin passed away in August 2018, news reports noted that she had not left behind a will. As a result, her estate has been in probate court since that time with family members disputing over the distribution of her substantial estate.

As she died without a will, state law should guide the distribution of her property, but the substantial amounts at stake have sparked various family members to make their claims in probate court. Existing disputes and disagreements between family can be exacerbated when a relative dies without a will, especially if a significant sum hangs in the balance. Now, three different handwritten wills attributed to Franklin have been found in different locations, including one reportedly discovered under seat cushions. All of them have been proffered to the probate court, but it is not clear if any of them hold legal value.

While many people have a smaller estate than Franklin, estate planning can be just as important in these cases. When no will is left behind, people may see significant portions of their estate eaten up in legal and court costs, especially if disputes drag on for a long period of time.

People who want to protect their families from a difficult or contentious court process can take action to make an estate plan. An attorney may work with people to develop wills, trusts, powers of attorney and other estate documents that reflect their plans for the future.