Aretha Franklin’s attorney files THREE handwritten wills

I saw this headline today and here’s a link to the article in Aretha’s hometown paper. The reality is it’s not shocking to have three wills and even three handwritten wills. This happens as people change their mind from time to time and/or in some cases handwritten documents might be wills. For a lawyer helping his client carry out their fiduciary duty it’s best to file all potential “wills” with the court and then let the Judge sort out what’s a will and what’s not a will.

Let’s back up a little. In California a handwritten will is valid as a “holographic will” if it’s:
1) written by the decedent in their own writing;
2) signed by the decedent;
3) dated or the timing can be established by content of the will.

Notice in California a holographic will does not require any witnesses. Certainly having two witnesses probably helps but it is simply not required.

Why do so many celebrities not have proper wills and trusts in place? I don’t know “the” answer but I suspect they are too busy making money, traveling from house to house, being tugged at from all types of hanger-oners, and the like. They don’t have as much free time as you and me. Obviously they should have a will and a trust and probably several trusts but it seems to be so common that they do not.

Let’s go back to Ms Franklin. So there are three purported wills of hers. I have not seen any of them and have no clue about anything specific to her case. I can give some thoughts from other cases I have seen. These are wild guesses on my part but I make them by reading the facts. For example, why wouldn’t she throw away the old wills? The best way to revoke an old will is to rip it up and throw it away. If it’s gone there is no doubt of your intent. Or write “REVOKE” across the face and keep it. That’s another clear showing of intent. Let’s talk about Ms. Franklin’s wills….

I will bet a cup of coffee that there will be allegations that one, or more, of the wills is not in Ms. Franklin’s handwriting. Will this be true? Heck, who knows. People’s writing often changes a little bit and, in particular, when people are old and/or sick their writing can look different. For example, people with Parkinsons start to write very small. So my guess is there will be some allegations that the last will is not in her handwriting.

Perhaps each will gives away certain assets. I have seen many times where handwritten, or other homemade, wills do not give away all property. So for example will #1 might say “I give my Detroit house to the Detroit Symphony.” Will #2 might say “I give my Detroit house to my friend Bobby.” Will #3 might say I give my Los Angeles house to my friend Debbie. So it’s possible will #2 will trump #1 as to Detroit and will #3 will give away the LA house.

Or maybe there is ambiguity. Maybe will #2 says “I give my Detroit house to my friend Bobby to live in since he loves it so much.” Ok, so does that mean Bobby essentially has a life estate in the Detroit house? Then does it go to the symphony when Bobby dies? What about the other assets? If the will doesn’t specify then the “residue” would go Ms. Franklin’s next of kin.

I could go on making up guesses but, as I said, I do not know.

I should add if Ms. Franklin really did have a house in LA she will need to hire a California attorney to do an ancillary probate. I perform ancillary probates throughout California as often people have property or homes in California. Maybe they inherited a home, had a beach home, had a timeshare, had desert land, etc… but they lived elsewhere at death. I handle ancillary probates in all counties in California.

If you have a death of a loved one, or maybe a hated one, in California let’s talk.

-John Palley

Call Us Today