Published On: Sun, Aug 26th, 2018

Aretha Franklin Death a Cautionary Tale for Seniors

The passing of Aretha Franklin last week was a shocking loss to the music world, but the headlines of the days that followed were even more surprising to her friends and fans alike. It now appears that the Queen of Soul died without a will. Despite having significant health challenges over the last several years, the 76-year-old singer left no details regarding wishes for her assets and did not have a trust. Her business manager says he had been “after her” to set up a trust for years.

It is difficult to imagine that an individual who has amassed such wealth – and whose identity and intellectual property has evolved into nothing short of an empire – would die absent a will or any significant estate plans.

Michigan law, like Florida, dictates that when a person dies without a will in place, probate courts handle administration of the deceased‘s estate. Because the Grammy-winner was divorced at the time of her death, her four children will divide her estate equally, but it doesn’t begin – or end – there. Absent a will, the road can be long, contentious and costly.

“One phone call can mean a world of difference,” says Boca Raton estate-planning attorney Craig Donoff. We asked Donoff, who has double Masters degrees in law and has served Boca Raton families for 44 years, how much it costs to probate an estate. “The question is much too broad to give a precise answer and the word ‘estate’ means many things to many people.” Donoff once wrote in the Senior Forum, “what you don’t know about probate costs is enough to kill you.”

Probate attorneys work many different ways, with some charging a fee per hour, a flat fee, a percentage of the estate or a combination of all of the above. “You don’t want to go that route,” advises Donoff. He estimates that an individual with a million dollar estate will lose roughly $64,000 to probate costs. A $10,000,000 estate can cost half a million or more to probate. Having the proper documents in place can represent a savings of 95% or more, he estimates. Donoff and daughter Lindsey estimate that they have helped approximately 25,000 local families to avoid the pitfalls with which Aretha Franklin’s family have now found themselves burdened. Another added benefit of forming a trust is that the details of her estate would now be kept private.

“People are shocked at how painless properly preparing a will or trust can be.” The father and daughter duo is sensitive to many people’s fears that speaking with an attorney can carry exorbitant costs. “We don’t charge for consultations and we don’t even charge for phone calls once someone becomes a client.” Phone calls to attorneys on retainer can otherwise cost hundreds of dollars.

Seniors are reminded daily of their own mortality as icons of their youth pass away, but over half of U.S. adults currently do not have a will or living trust in place, according to a 2017 report.

Donoff says he’d like to “help our neighbors to avoid becoming part of that statistic”.

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