The past year was full of big stories and so if you missed the most notable happenings in probate news we don’t blame you (yes, that’s a joke—who but lawyers follow probate news?). This being said, 2020 did leave us with headline-worthy stories about the tribulations of poorly-drafted estates and many of them are worth reviewing if you’re concerned about how your assets will be handled after you die. Below, we collect the two most notable examples and break down the lessons that they carry for everyday individuals.  

Prince and the Importance of a Survivorship Clause
While it may be true that Prince died in April of 2016, his estate tribulations have continued into the present. The reason? Prince left no Will which left his estimated $300 million fortune vulnerable to all kinds of opportunists. Dozens of would-be claimants came out of the woodwork after the artist’s death, and it took years for the court to whittle down Prince’s true next of kin to his six siblings. Unfortunately, that was only the start of the ordeal.

Before probate court could resolve Prince’s estate, Alfred Jackson, one of the artist’s siblings, passed away unexpectedly. Only hours prior, Jackson had signed 90% of his Prince estate rights to Primary Wave, a well-funded and growing entertainment company. And in a further twist, upon Jackson’s death, it was discovered that he had bequeathed his entire estate to Raffles Van Exel, a friend, and Dutch entertainment consultant. These complications led to Jackson’s Will being contested by Prince’s family which has, in turn, further delayed the processing of the artist’s estate. 

Had Prince signed a Will and included a survivorship clause all of these complications could have been avoided. A survivorship clause not only requires that a beneficiary survive the decedent by a set number of days to receive their inheritance, but it also dictates what should happen should the beneficiary die before this requirement is fulfilled. Had such a clause existed in Prince’s situation, there would have been no room for opportunistic entertainment companies to claim the artist’s assets upon his brother’s passing. 

Aretha Franklin and the Importance of Up-To-Date Documents
Aretha Franklin, like Prince, died intestate or without an official Will. Nonetheless, an understanding existed that the singer’s $80 million in assets would be divided evenly among her four sons. Franklin’s niece was appointed executor of the estate and while performing her duties, discovered three handwritten documents which all appeared to be Wills. The trouble was that each document divided Franklin’s assets in different ways and no indication existed concerning which took precedence over the other. 

Family in-fighting erupted over the contents of Franklin’s different wills leading her niece to step down as executor. To make matters worse, a fourth unofficial will was discovered in late 2019 further complicating the court’s task of determining the Queen of Gospel’s true final intentions. 

Had Franklin drafted a professional Will in collaboration with an experienced estate planning attorney, the entire mess concerning her assets could have been avoided. When probate court is offered multiple Wills with no indication of which takes precedence, a process of looking at surrounding circumstances is initiated to resolve the dilemma. This is both costly and time-consuming, as Franklin’s still-unresolved case demonstrates.

While the complication of resolving Prince’s and Franklin’s estates is due in no small part to their star power and large fortunes, everyday individuals can likewise suffer setbacks from poorly-designed—or non-existent—estate plans. To avoid this danger and to ensure your assets arrive to your loved ones without struggle or strife, reach out to the Deliberato Law Center today either by calling our office at (216) 341-3413 or using the contact form on our website. 

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