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The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, died in 2018. Initially, it was thought that she had not made a Will to govern who would inherit her multimillion-dollar estate.
Around 6 months after her death, Aretha’s niece found two handwritten Wills. One was dated June 2010 (‘the 2010 Will’) and another dated March 2014 (‘the 2014 Will’). Proceedings have been ongoing in America since 2019 to determine which, if either, of the Wills are valid.
The 2010 Will was found in a locked cabinet in Aretha’s home alongside other important legal documents, whereas the 2014 Will was found within a notebook that was nestled in the side of the sofa.
Aretha had four sons – Theodore White, Kecalf Franklin, Edward Franklin and Clarence Franklin.
Pursuant to the 2014 Will, all four sons would each receive equal shares of Aretha’s music royalties. However, one of the main assets of the estate, the family home reportedly worth $1.1 million, was left to Kecalf and his grandchildren only.
The 2010 Will appointed Theodore as one of the executors and provided that the estate be distributed evenly but, in order for Kecalf and Edward to benefit, they must “take business classes and get a certificate or a degree” otherwise they would not receive anything. There was no mention of this condition in the 2014 Will.
Kecalf and Edward argued that the estate should be distributed pursuant to the 2014 Will. Theodoreargued to the contrary and suggested that the 2014 Will was simply a draft with illegible notes scribbled on it and it was not intended to be relied upon. Theodore argued that this is why it was notprofessionally prepared (although the 2010 Will was not either) or safely stored away.
The fourth son, Clarence, was not involved in the proceedings.
Last month, in American court proceedings, it was held that the 2014 Will was valid.
In the UK, handwritten and homemade Wills are perfectly acceptable but, as they are prepared without the assistance of a solicitor, they are often challenged.
There are several grounds on which a Will can be challenged in the UK. The most common reasons are:
In the UK, a testator is free to prepare their own Will and store it wherever they wish. Even a Will scribbled on a scrap of paper can be admitted to the Probate Registry, provided it has been executed correctly and in line with the strict rules set out in the Wills Act 1837, namely:
This case has certainly highlighted some important practical points that should be considered by all, to avoid lengthy and costly probate disputes arising in the future.
Here are a few of our top tips:
If you have come across a handwritten Will and require advice as to its validity or advice in connection with bringing or defending a Will dispute, please contact Olivia Pisapia in our Disputed Wills and Trusts team.
Alternatively, if you wish to speak to a solicitor for advice on drafting a new Will, please contact our Wealth and Estate Planning team.
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