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The celebrity who died in 2018 with no will and what happened next

By Maplebrook Wills

2nd Jan '19

Legacy Planning, Trusts, Wills

Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin will be remembered as one of the greatest singers of all time. But when the Queen of Soul passed away in August 2018, she left behind no will and no trust. There was nothing to dictate what should happen to her fortune.

Franklin died at the age of 76, having suffered from pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer. Over the course of a 60-year career as a recording artist and performer, she won the adoration of millions for hits like Respect, Think and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman and amassed a fortune estimated to be around $80m.

While Franklin’s agent said he’d advised her to get a will on several occasions, she died intestate. Having a will in place would have made things a lot simpler for her heirs, ensuring that her assets were distributed according to her exact wishes, quickly and without the possibility of legal battles.

Dying with no will

Since there was no will, a US court appointed Franklin’s niece, Sabrina Garrett Owens, as the estate’s personal representative. It’s now Owens’ job to administer the estate and decide how much of it should go to each of Franklin’s four sons (there’s a different procedure for intestacy in the UK).

The possibility of family friction is always present when there’s no will, and celebrities are no exception. Stories in the media about Aretha Franklin’s lack of a will also mentioned Prince, who died intestate in 2016. The pop star’s estate has been the subject of a legal battle ever since. There’s reportedly been infighting amongst his heirs.

Aretha Franklin’s estate could be rather different – and altogether better – position, however.

All four of her sons reportedly met an attorney the day before her death. They agreed on the appointment of Owens. It was a positive sign, since amicable family relationships are crucial to the probate process running smoothly and not ending up in court.

On the day of Franklin’s funeral in August 2018, 100 pink Cadillac’s packed the streets outside the Greater Grace Temple in Detroit – a reference to her hit song Freeway of Love. Barack Obama was one of many leading figures to pay tribute to the pop and gospel singer, saying her voice was so perfect it offered ‘a glimpse of the divine’.

Since the funeral, her 5,600-sq-ft brick mansion in Detroit has been sold, reportedly fetching $300,000. And three of her most iconic stage outfits were put up for auction in New York. This included the cream-coloured gown she wore to Bill Clinton’s nomination ball.

Amazing Grace

There’s also been good news for Aretha Franklin’s legion of fans. Although many will still be mourning her loss, her legacy won’t be forgotten. According to Variety, a documentary film of her performing gospel music could be a contender at next year’s Oscars.

The film was previously stuck in legal limbo. The estate has now approved the release of Amazing Grace in selected cinemas in the run up to the Academy Awards. Forty-six years after it was shot, a nationwide release would be a fitting tribute to an incredible talent.

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