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Aretha Franklin: Handwritten Will found under couch cushions

Aretha Franklin, The Queen of Soul, was a larger than life American singer who gave us the inspirational songs "RESPECT" and "You make me feel like a natural woman".

When she passed away in August 2018, it was thought the songstress did not leave a Will, leaving many wondering why a person with such significant assets would overlook such a task.

Three handwritten documents have since been submitted as evidence of her testamentary intentions, two dated in 2010 and the other – dated 2014, discovered in a notebook under the cushions of a couch.

The question for the Court is which Will to accept as valid and admissible (which will be determined later in June).

Closer to home, in Australia, an informal Will (i.e. one that does not comply with the formal requirements) can be a valid document and accepted by the Courts as demonstrating testamentary intention – however this only occurs in limited circumstances and is not guaranteed.  

To ensure your wishes are put into effect on your death, the legal requirements for a Will include:

  1. Having capacity (being over 18 years of age, soundness of mind, memory and understanding);
  2. Clear intention to make, alter of revoke a Will (usually with a statement to this effect);
  3. Knowledge and approval of the contents of the Will;
  4. Proper formalities (including signature and dating of the Will by the testator and two witness present at the same time and who are not to receive a benefit under the Will, amongst other requirements). 

Involving an experienced estate planning lawyer is essential in preparing your Will and estate planning, as getting it wrong can leave it open to dispute and your family with unintended consequences .

For Aretha, if the documents are accepted as valid, it will impact on the administration of her large estate, from who is appointed to administer her estate and the distribution of property and money to her family.

In the case of one such soul singer, perhaps her estate planning should have followed her aptly named 1983 album "Get it Right".

If you need to finalise or change your Will, contact our estate planning team today. 

This article was written by lawyer Nicki McNamara. 

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