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Aretha Franklin's Estate: Uncertainty Months After Death

NEW YORK, NY - FEB 18, 2012: Aretha Franklin performs in concert at Radio City Music Hall on February 18, 2012, in New York. (Editorial Use Only)

Based upon documentation filed in Michigan’s Oakland County court, the beloved singer-songwriter’s estate is estimated to be worth approximately $80 million dollars. However, despite her wealth and access to counsel, she died with no will, trust or estate plan. In December, the IRS filed a claim in probate court alleging that Ms. Franklin owed several million dollars in back taxes and penalties at the time of her death. These claims must be either satisfied or contested prior to the distribution of the estate, and could add years to an already complicated, expensive process. To add to the disorder, it is being reported that an heir to Ms. Franklin’s estate is attempting to obtain a court order requiring the estate to provide them with monthly financial documents and that another potential heir suffers from special needs.

Ms. Franklin’s lack of a comprehensive estate plan has resulted in the details of her wealth, debts and family relationships being a very public matter. Generally, the rights to song royalties, copyrights and publishing rights and the inherent difficulty in valuing such assets, lead to prolong battles with the IRS and will ensure a long and very public probate process. Additionally, the consequences of a distribution of funds to a special needs beneficiary can have far reaching, unintended effects to such beneficiary.

A properly drafted estate plan could have avoided this very public probate, kept her estate assets and debts private, expedited the distribution of her wealth and provided appropriately for the special needs of one of her children.

Whether you’re a celebrity or not, the best course of action, always, is to prepare for the eventuality of death with an updated, current estate plan, which takes into consideration all aspects of your life and ensures that your estate, big or small, and the distribution of your assets remains a private matter between you and your loved ones.

Estate Planning- Don't Forget Your Puppy!

The number of households in America owning pets is at a record high – 68 percent. Many people think of their pets as family members and want to make sure they are well provided for should something happen to them.

More and more people are making provisions in their wills to provide for these animals after they are gone. In order to ensure that your pet is cared for as you intend, it’s important to set up a pet trust – an arrangement that most states permit. An attorney experienced in probate and estate planning litigation can help you ensure that your pet is protected and cared for after your gone.

While some people leave thousands of dollars for the care of a pet, most pet owners allocate only enough to cover necessities like food and veterinary care. Did you know that from 2010 to 2012, the percentage of dog owners making such arrangements rose from 5% to 9%?

Recognizing the desire of Californians to have a means to care for their companion animals after death, California legislature enacted Probate Code Section 15212, the Pet Trust Law. According to the law, “A person can create a trust for the care of a designated domestic or pet animal for the life of the animal. The duration will only be for the life of the pet, even if the trust instrument contemplates a longer duration.”

In a properly drafted Pet Trust a pet owner can:

  • Name the pet(s) as the beneficiary of a Will or Trust
  • Appoint a caretaker for the pet and a trustee who will manage the money for the pet
  • Appoint someone to enforce the trust to ensure that the trust’s terms are carried out as the owner desired

The trustee pays the pet’s bills and oversees the performance of its caretaker; however, trustees can double as caretakers. Be sure those you appoint want to perform their duties and name a successor just in case.

Pet trusts can take effect either after you die or while you’re alive. The latter provides for care of the pet in the event you suffer an accident or illness that leaves you unable to take care of your animal.

When you can no longer take care of your pet for any reason during your life or after your death, promises by family or friends may be forgotten or broken. It is truly important to create a legally enforceable plan to protect your beloved pet.

If you have questions regarding a Pet Trust or any other type of Estate Planning, contact the Family Law offices of Holstrom, Block & Parke for the answers and options you need.

We have offices in Riverside, San Bernardino, and Orange Counties for your convenience.

About Dayn Holstrom

Dayn Holstrom is a hard working, compassionate problem solver who welcomes the opportunity to serve you in any way he can. His maximum availability to your questions and concerns begins with your free initial consultation. He is well-seasoned in all matters related to family law and a skilled negotiator and litigator.

Don't Leave Your Estate In California's Hands

Every adult should have an estate plan. Whether your planning needs are simple or extremely complex, you need a plan that is customized to your assets, your family structure and your goals.

Whether you choose to have a Will or a Living Trust, both provide for the distribution of your estate upon your death. Deciding which fits your needs depends on your specific circumstances.

A Will is a legal document that allows you to choose your beneficiaries and leave them specific items from your estate. You will need to designate an executor to carry out your wishes. In addition, it gives you the chance to nominate a guardian if you have minor children. It is subject to probate and comes into effect upon your death.

As for costs to prepare, a Will costs less than a Trust; however, costs to probate a Will can be substantial.

Even though a Will comes into play upon your death, a Living Trust can start benefiting you while you are still alive. It allows you to transfer substantially all of your property into your Trust during your lifetime and it is revocable, which means you can make changes. It will be used to manage your property before and after your death, as well as provide how your assets will be distributed after your death. If you become disabled or incapacitated, the Trust is in place to manage your financial affairs. A great benefit is that it is not subject to probate and all provisions will remain private.

As for costs to prepare, fund and manage, a Living Trust costs more than a Will; however, it avoids probate costs if all assets were held by the Trust.

If you die without a Will or Living Trust, your estate will be handled and your assets distributed by the court – probably to your spouse or closest heirs. This may or may not be what you wanted.

Estate planning involves difficult decisions about your personal matters. It demands individualized solutions for your objectives.

Whether you’re just beginning the estate planning process, or you need to update an existing plan, contact the Orange County Family Law offices of Holstrom, Block & Parke because we take pride in providing experienced counsel with excellent service in determining the right estate planning tools for your family.

About Dayn Holstrom

Dayn Holstrom is a hard working, compassionate problem solver who welcomes the opportunity to serve you in any way he can. His maximum availability to your questions and concerns begins with your free initial consultation. He is well-seasoned in all matters related to family law and a skilled negotiator and litigator.

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