Are Aretha Franklin's handwritten wills valid?

Yesterday, numerous news outlets reported three handwritten wills were discovered in Aretha Franklin's home. Two of the wills were dated 2010 and the third was dated 2014. One of the wills was apparently discovered under cushions in the living room. Her attorney stated he didn't know if any of the wills is valid.

A page of the 2014 will was shown in a CBS news article and from this page alone, it is clear there are numerous problems and unanswered questions. Was the "will" a final version? Were any of the "wills" signed and witnessed?" Do the later wills reference any of the earlier wills? Are the provisions consistent? Will the "wills" be valid under Michigan law? If this happened in North Carolina, one question might be whether the will found under the cushions was kept with Ms. Franklin's valuables.  In other words, was the paper treated by the decedent as valuable and stored with other valuables or was it simply discarded and forgotten under the cushions? 

North Carolina allows handwritten (holographic) wills. But these wills cause numerous problems. In all likelihood, holographic and oral (nuncupative) wills are legal holdovers intended only for certain emergencies when there is: 1) either no time to find an estate planning attorney such as a soldier in battle;  or 2) when someone lives in an isolated area and is completely unable to access legal services. Handwritten and oral wills should never be the first choice. 

Even if a state allows handwritten wills, as Michigan may (I am not licensed in MIchigan and can't speak to this), there is no guarantee any of these wills will ultimately be found to be valid. Ms. Franklin's Michigan attorney stated he doesn't know if the wills are valid.

Court actions to interpret the wills and rule on the legal issues involved could take months. The bottom line is these "wills" are likely to raise more questions and problems than they solve. It looks like Aretha Franklin's already difficult estate may be heading towards the rapids. Two of her sons have already objected to the wills. 

As a North and South Carolina estate planning attorney, this is not a scenario I want to see for any family. My heart goes out to Ms. Franklin's family. I'm sure this is not what she would have wanted.   

The best parting gift you can give your family is a great estate plan. Contact the Law Office of Nancy L. Roberts, PLLC today for more information about how we can help you create a clear, straightforward plan for distributing your property to your loved ones.

Take a look at our valuable estate planning bookchecklist, and articles with tons of tips and helpful information. They were written by us to help residents of North and South Carolina. You can request your free copy of our book by clicking on the link on this page. 


Nancy Roberts
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