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Aretha Franklin’s legacy could include teaching consumers yet another word: W-I-L-L.

Get one. Franklin — like Prince, Pablo Picasso, and others before her — reportedly died without a will or a trust. And there could be legal battles ahead in probate court for family members and others because of it.

It’s shocking, especially when you consider that Franklin, who died Aug. 16 at age 76, had been battling pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors for quite some time. And reportedly, she had $80 million in assets at the time of her death, according to People magazine, which quoted estimates from CelebrityNetWorth.com.

Celebrity news sites are all over this one. “It’s especially surprising given that she has a special needs son named Clarence who needs financial and other forms of support for his entire life,” according to TMZ. How much Franklin’s estate really has to distribute to her heirs isn’t known. The real value to them will be determined in the months — and possibly years — ahead.

All that money? No will? Yep, Prince had an estimated estate of $200 million and he died without a will, too. Two years after his death, his heirs still had not received any money.

If you die without a will, the state, the courts and the lawyers step in to handle matters. Creditors will be paid off and assets will be distributed under the law of the state where you live. The legal bills build and build in many cases — especially if there are disputes.

No. 1: The odds go way up for court battles without a will

Even everyday families — say where Mom or Dad leaves behind an old car, a house and maybe if you’re lucky a few hundred thousand dollars — can find something to fight about when there isn’t proper estate planning.

Lists go on and on when it comes to well-known people who died without wills: Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., NFL player Steve McNair, and Abraham Lincoln. Many, of course, have been advised over and over again to spell out their wishes for how their estate should be handled.

“I was after her for a number of years to do a trust,” Los Angeles attorney Don Wilson told the Free Press. He represented Franklin in entertainment matters for the past 28 years. “It would have expedited things and kept them out of probate, and kept things private,” Wilson said.  The chances go up when things aren’t spelled out that Franklin’s four children will find something to fight over. Things can become a lot harder on the family after a death when no planning is in place.

“You better think. Think about what you’re trying to do to me,” as Franklin famously sang.

No. 2: It is important to plan what happens with your money before you die

Even though you don’t want to think about death, it remains important to find a good, experienced attorney and start the estate planning process.

Ideally, you want to take time to think out potential problems. Are you worried that your daughter-in-law will spend all your son’s money once you die? Are you fearful that a child with a drug addiction shouldn’t be left $50,000 in cash? Do you have a child with special needs who will need help?  These are the kind of things you’d want to address in an estate plan.

Creating a trust isn’t enough. Michael Jackson, who died at age 50 in 2009, had made a will and set up a trust for his children. But like some everyday fathers and mothers, he didn’t take the next key step — and fund the trust or re-title his assets into it. And it turned into a family mess.

Despite what many services lead you to believe, simply having a will and no trust will still result in probate being required.  A parent who does not have a spouse but has minor children, for example, needs to realize that without a will, the children in Michigan would receive all the money once they turn age 18.  Having an estate go through probate can be costly and confusing, as well.

The Michigan Legislature also has a useful 52-page booklet online that includes a copy of the state’s statutory will, as well some guidelines.  Again, the booklet notes that it’s recommended that you should consult an attorney if you have substantial wealth and need tax planning. Working with an attorney is “strongly recommended if you want to establish a trust fund for your children’s education, if you have assets outside the State of Michigan, if you have children from a prior relationship, or if you have a significant interest in a business or partnership,” the booklet noted.

No. 3: When you get a will, tell your family where it is 

Tell your family where your will is located. Let them know your plans. Don’t make your family hunt for all that necessary paperwork. Make sure you update beneficiaries, too, for valuable assets, such as a 401(k) plan or Individual Retirement Account. And let loved ones know about those assets.

It might be painful to discuss death, even when there is an illness. But experts say it’s far more painful to leave behind a legal mess.

Excerpts taken from an article by Susan Tompor in the Detroit Free Press dated August 23, 2018.

If you have any questions on estate planning, please call Karen L. Stewart, Attorney and Counselor at (248) 735-0900.

For more information, please see my website, www.customestateplans.com.