Aretha Franklin's handwritten wills found: Big estate planning no-no

The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, should have given more r-e-s-p-e-c-t to her estate planning.

When she died last August, it was reported that she didn’t have a will. Now, as her estate is being combed through, three different wills have reportedly been found, including one located under some seat cushions. Each one is handwritten and has been submitted as part of the probate process to see if any of them will have legal standing.

Franklin’s actions -- or lack thereof -- could cost her heirs tremendous amounts of money in legal fees, not to mention hours of time and family strife. Moreover, the ultimate court decision regarding her estate may not be consistent with her wishes.

What can you learn from it?

First, formalize a will. Estate law varies by state and you will want to make sure your will reflects your location and circumstances and will be upheld.

Don’t go the handwritten route. Spend the money to hire a trusted estate planning attorney to ensure that everything is done correctly and the way you want, and that it has witnesses and/or is notarized. While you can download a form from the internet, spending a bit extra to hire professional help can save your heirs a fortune in extra legal fees in the long-run.

Also, revisit your will at least yearly to make sure it accurately reflects your current wishes and everything is consistent between the will and other documents, like beneficiaries listed on any insurance policies.

Next, make sure your heirs can find the will. Franklin’s handwritten wills may not be the last ones she wrote. This is not an uncommon mistake. Experts agree that not being able to find the will at all is one of the biggest estate planning mistakes.

Finally, involve your loved ones as you prepare your wishes. Franklin’s loved ones didn’t know her wishes and now that will likely cost them extra time, money and burden.


While it’s never fun to think about, don’t let your discomfort about dealing with the future become part of your legacy. Be proactive about estate planning.

Carol Roth is the creator of the Future File legacy planning system, “recovering” investment banker and host of The Roth Effect podcast.