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Aretha Franklin, other celebs died without an estate plan. Will you?

Erin Arvedlund, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Home and Consumer News

PHILADELPHIA -- The Queen of Soul, who died at 76, left a lot of R-E-S-P-E-C-T, but apparently no will.

Three handwritten documents, dated between 2010 and 2014, were found in Aretha Franklin's Michigan home in recent months, including one in a spiral notebook found under her couch cushions.

The latest, dated March 2014, appears to give the famous singer's assets to family members. Her handwriting is hard to decipher, however, with words scratched out and writing in the margins, according to the Detroit Free Press. You can view her handwritten documents on the Free Press website.

Franklin isn't the only celebrity who died without a clear will. Prince, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Howard Hughes and President Abraham Lincoln also left this mortal coil without a valid will and estate plan, according to "Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights."

When actor Heath Ledger died at age 28 in 2008, his will left everything to his parents and three sisters. Ledger's will had been written before his daughter, Matilda, was born, leaving the then 2-year-old and her mother, the actress Michelle Williams, with nothing. Ledger's family later gave all the money from the estate to Ledger's daughter.

States typically restrict handwritten -- or "holographic" -- wills, to help protect against fraud and to ensure your documents distribute an estate accurately and reflect your true intent, according to Caitlin McAndrews of the McAndrews, Mehalick, Connolly, Hulse, Ryan & Marone law firm, founded in Berwyn.


Here's an easy way to get started on your own will.

Most law firms and accountants have estate questionnaires you can fill out with basic information. What's your and your spouse's Social Security numbers, address and assets? Did you sign a pre-nup? Buy life insurance? What are your basic wishes? Who would you want as your executor? Who would you name as guardian for your children?

Then there's your online presence. Dying without a will is known as being "intestate." Prevent the problem of "cyber intestacy," or failure to plan for one's online and social media accounts.

Just as when someone dies without a will, automatic bill payments and electronic bank withdrawals continue after death, and heirs may struggle to access photographs and email. By including digital estate plans in your will, you name who should have access to your online accounts.


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