Skip to main content
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Find a Lawyer

More Options

Learn From Aretha's Mistake…Treat Your Will with R-E-S-P-E-C-T

By Catherine Hodder, Esq. on July 12, 2023

If you have a will, don't put it under your sofa cushions. According to the Associated Press, that is where Aretha Franklin's niece found her will in her suburban Detroit home in 2019.

When legendary singer Aretha Franklin died in 2018 from pancreatic cancer, people thought she died intestate, meaning without a will. Under Michigan probate law, Franklin's reported $18 million estate would be split evenly between her children: Kecalf Franklin, Edward Franklin, Clarence Franklin, and Ted White II.

However, her children presented two wills drafted by the “Queen of Soul." Her son, Ted White II, claims a 2010 will found in a locked cabinet with other important papers is her “true" will.

However, Kecalf and Edward Franklin presented the court with Aretha's 2014 will, found in a spiral notebook under her couch cushions as her legal will. The wills had different property distributions, so naturally, Franklin's sons went to court over the late singer's estate.

Which of Aretha's Wills Prevails?

Aretha signed her 2010 will, and her signature is notarized. She signed her handwritten 2014 will with a 'smiley' face incorporated in her signature, which was her custom. But her handwritten document did not have witnesses or a notary.

A Michigan jury found that the 2014 will was valid under Michigan's holographic statute, which recognizes handwritten wills. A handwritten or "holographic" will is legal if the essential parts of the will are in the testator's (the person making the will) handwriting and signed and dated by them.

How To Make a Valid Will

A will is an important legal document that distributes your property according to your wishes. You can also name who you want to administer your estate, your personal representative, and who you want to care for your children and pets.

It is easy to make a will. You can either hire an estate planning attorney or create one yourself with online will formation services. It is important to sign your will according to state laws to make it valid.

For example, in Michigan, a will must be in writing and signed by the testator in front of two competent witnesses. While Michigan allows holographic wills, they may be subject to court battles like Aretha's.

Where To Keep Your Executed Will

Once you sign your will, you want to keep it somewhere safe. Deciding where to store your will should be part of your will-making checklist.

Typically, people store their wills in various ways:

  • Desk drawer or storage cabinet
  • Home safe
  • Safe deposit box at a bank
  • Estate planning attorney's office
  • Local probate court

If you store your will in a locked drawer, cabinet, or safe, make sure you give someone you trust the combination or key to access your will.

It generally is not a good idea to keep your will in a safe deposit box in a bank. Some banks freeze your safe deposit box when you die, and your loved ones may not be able to get your will without a court order. Some probate courts allow you to file your will but note that doing so makes your will a public record.

Even if your property and assets do not compare to Aretha Franklin's estate, it is still crucial to avoid legal battles among family members by making a valid will and storing it in a safe place.

Was this helpful?

Thank you. Your response has been sent.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:
Copied to clipboard