Aretha Franklin died on the 16th of August 2018 at the age of 76 after an ongoing battle with pancreatic cancer and at the time no Will could be found. Recent news reports have now revealed how a handwritten Will has been discovered under a sofa cushion in the Queen of Soul’s home in Detroit. To ensure the Will’s validity, it is being examined by a handwriting expert.

It was originally believed that Aretha Franklin died without a Will, leaving her multimillion pound estate to the rules of intestacy. However, the lawyers for her estate revealed that three Wills have subsequently been found.

Initially, two handwritten Wills written in 2010 were found locked in a cabinet. These Wills revealed that the singer had named her niece Sabrina Owens and son Theodore White II as Executors of her estate. The third Will discovered under a sofa cushion more recently, was supposedly written in 2014 and names her son Kecalf Franklin as Executor.

The 2014 Will is reportedly difficult to decipher, so it needs to be determined whether it qualifies as valid Will. The Will has words crossed out, notes in the margins and the handwriting is hard to read in places.

Aretha Franklin’s estate is reportedly worth approximately $80 million (£62 million) and it is still unclear as to who will inherit the estate. If a Will is found to be valid then the estate should be distributed as per the wishes set out in the Will. On the other hand, if it’s ruled that the singer died intestate, then under the intestacy rules set out by Michigan state law, Aretha Franklin’s four surviving children would inherit an equal split of her estate.

The importance of leaving a valid Will

The uncertainty around how Aretha Franklin’s estate will be distributed highlights the importance of not only creating a Will but also ensuring that it is legal and stored in a safe place. Regardless of age, health and wealth, it’s crucial that people state their wishes in a Will. This avoids their estate being distributed in the predetermined way dictated by intestacy laws.

To make a Will,  you must be 18 years old or older in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, or 12 years or older in Scotland. You must make it voluntarily, be of sound mind and make it in writing. Additionally, in England and Wales, you are required to sign it in the presence of two witnesses who are both over 18, and your two witnesses must sign the Will in your presence. However, in Scotland, you are one required to sign it in the presence of one witness that is over the age of 16. You can’t name the witnesses or their married partners as beneficiaries in the Will.

You should also consider where you store the Will. The best approach to ensure your Will is found when the time comes, is to inform your Executor(s) of where the Will is stored.

Secure and safe storage of your Will(s) is crucial if they are to be found in a pristine condition when needed and hence not contested.  It is crucial they are found when needed otherwise you are considered to have died intestate i.e. not having a Will at all.  This is why we always talk about our storage facility and the importance of storing your Wills outside your home.

When we set up our Will writing division some 12 years ago, we needed to find a secure means of storing the Wills we write and we looked at all the options available

At the time banks used to store Wills, which they no longer do, so we needed to look for alternatives as storing Wills at home is extremely risky and something we strongly advise against.

Once securely stored with us, we provide you with a storage certificate to keep and we also provide copies to give to your Executors and friends.  Our facility is completely secure and offers the following safety features:

  • Protection against fire, flooding & water damage
  • 24 Hour CCTV Monitoring
  • Secure perimeter fencing & electronic access gates

Your Will is then registered on “The National Will Register” free of charge (usually £30 per Will). This is a UK wide database used to record the location of Wills. This is the first place that a legal professional should check if the executors are unable to locate the original document themselves.  Please note “The National Will Register” do not store Wills.

There really are few alternatives.  Banks no longer seem to offer storage facilities for Wills, which means you’d need to rent a safe deposit box.  If you decide on that option, you need to find out how the bank will control the box after your death. Some banks will not allow anyone except a court-appointed administrator to open the box to retrieve the Will. This policy may cause difficulty and delay in settling your Estate. Other banks allow a family member to remove the Will in the presence of bank officials. Whatever their protocol you should make sure the Executor named in your will has access to your safe deposit box after your death.

Banks will make a charge for any storage facility and these charges will escalate over time.  The price you pay when your Will is stored with us stays the same for the duration your Will is stored with us, so the real cost, less than a cup of coffee per month, will diminish over time.  In addition, you can store other documents with us, such as Powers of Attorney, deeds, life policies etc.

We strongly advise against storing your Wills at home but if you do there is no guarantee they will be protected from fire, theft, floods or pests and any marking of the Will, even that made by a paper clip can draw its validity into question and may cause it to be contested.  It also leaves open the risk of someone defacing or destroying your Will. The majority of Wills that are destroyed or damaged at home are done so at the hands of the owner whether or not through a simple accident, but it happens with surprising frequency.

If you do decide to store your Wills at home you will need to tell someone you trust where you have put them, so that they can be found when you die.  This is very important because if the original, signed Will is not found, your Estate would normally be treated as if you had died intestate, and your assets might not be distributed as you would have wished.  Relying on others to remember the location of Wills is not wise. Individuals do forget and become confused, particularly at distressing times, so it is sensible to leave a note of their location with your important papers.  If you decide to store them at home, you should really get a fireproof safe and you will need to advise your home and contents provider of this.

Storing your Wills with us is not only safe and secure, but also at £25 per Will per year is remarkably good value.  Having taken the responsible step in getting your Wills written then give yourself the peace of mind to know that they are being properly looked after.  There’s no point in writing your Wills to risk them being lost, damaged or defaced.

If you decide to store your Will outside our storage facility then you accept full responsibility for its safekeeping and it would be worth paying the £30 registration fee to “The National Will Register” to have the location of your Will(s) stored on their database.

Enfield Wills

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