So we now know that the Queen of Soul also died without writing her own last will and testament. She joins famous people in the Black community like Prince, Martin Luther King, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Tupac Shakur, Barry White and Steve McNair who left this world abruptly without having their affairs in place.
There is reportedly $80 million in assets in Aretha’s estate. That doesn’t capture the potential intellectual property that the rights of her music will hold. We are learning that Aretha was mindful of her money, demanding to be paid in cash before her performance. I imagine that there must have been a time when she didn’t get the proper payment after she performed. It seems she was making sure that she would not have that issue ever again. Her willingness to receive all money due her was clear. She avoided any confusion after the fact.
Now there is confusion. Reportedly both Aretha and Prince had been urged to get their affairs in order by financial planners. Both individuals were notably private people who didn’t share a great deal about their personal lives.
We know that planning for the end of our life is not an easy thing. In the cases mentioned previously, the deaths were mostly unexpected. Most of us don’t know when we will pass away, and most people don’t want to acknowledge mortality.
Many are reporting that Aretha did not have a will, but the state in essence provides a will for those who decide that they don’t want to create their own. Each state has created a body of law called “Laws of Intestacy,” which act as a will for those who don’t take responsibility for making such allocations.
The probate process is a court action that is very public. It takes responsibility to make sure that there is a fair and equitable distribution of the assets of the decedent based upon the priorities and formula in the law. It reveals everything that the person who passed away owned when they died. The probate process is in many ways first come first serve in who gets to be the administrator. There is a priority chain of appointment. Typically, the spouse and children have equal priority to serve. This means which ever child or spouse that comes first to apply for the role of administrator also known as executor will be appointed unless there is justification to oppose this appointment. As you can imagine this could create the initial conflict between the family members.
The valuation of the assets can be a source of conflict as well. With family members there are many things that hold great sentimental value but less financial value. That disparity can be a great source of conflict when it comes to equalizing out the distributions. The valuations are required to insure the equality of distributions as required by the law when there is no will. As can be imagined, this valuation and appraisal can take a significant amount of time and money.
Prince’s estate which underwent battles with unreleased music and genetic testing reflects the great deal of time and money spent on clarifying things that an estate would have managed. This would be lessened with Aretha having children. However, we do know that with an estate this large there will be significant estate tax charges as well as significant legal fees.
Although many of us don’t have many $80 million, the grief that our families feel will be just as traumatic. Let’s get our affairs in order.