Aretha Franklin, who sadly passed away last month, did so 'intestate', meaning without a will. At the age of 76, the legendary American singer had amassed a fortune of around $80m (£62m) from her career. It is somewhat surprising, therefore, that she neglected to ensure that a will was in place, to make certain that her legacy could be received by who she intended, and in the proportions she wished them to be. Like many, it is thought that the singer simply did not get around to making one.
The 'Queen of Soul', who had been suffering from ill health for some time, had four sons. Under the law in Michigan, this means that her estate will likely be split equally between those four children. However, that will not prevent other interested parties from making claims against her estate, which a court would need to resolve. An estate becomes far more complex to deal with upon death, without a will.
It may be that this sharing of assets was exactly what Ms. Franklin intended. It may be that the singer did not wish for her wider family and friends to benefit from her estate. Alternatively, it may be that Ms. Franklin would have preferred to have provided for others, but did not take the chance to confirm this in a legally binding document. Nevertheless, the position leaves uncertainty as to her wishes, and it can be very difficult for a family to try and think about what those wishes may have been.
The law in England and Wales would have the same outcome in these circumstances, as the law in Michigan. In the absence of a surviving spouse or civil partner, an estate would be split equally between any children, provided that the deceased has not left a will. However, failing to leave a will risks conflict within a family, can increase legal costs and in some circumstances, tax bills.
Wills can create trusts, structure affairs in tax-efficient ways, and offer certainty. They can also provide cash legacies to charities/friends/family and/or to deal with personal items. Taking the precaution of making a will can settle a person's mind, and protect those you love the most.