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Since you've been gone: what lies ahead for Aretha's estate

Last month, the world lost one of history's most prolific soul singers. When Aretha Franklin passed away, she left behind a rich legacy of transformative music and social activism. The 18-time Grammy Award winner also left behind considerable assets--and with them, considerable unsettlement.

The Queen of Soul died intestate--meaning she did not leave behind a will. Now her lawyers must take on the arduous task of determining how her estate--estimated to be worth as much as $80 million--will be divided.

Why an estate plan matters

Shaheen Imami--lead attorney at Michigan's Prince Law Firm--explained the value of having an estate plan in a recent interview with PEOPLE Magazine.

An estate plan--consisting of a will and a trust--dictates how assets will be divided among specified beneficiaries. It's always possible that family members or friends may feel undercompensated following a loved one's passing, and they may pursue legal action. However, even if litigation ensues, the estate plan provides valuable guidelines for the deceased's final wishes--and this can help resolve disputes expeditiously.

Without an estate plan, however, the situation becomes far more complex and chaotic. Legal battles can be long and acrimonious. We have witnessed the turmoil involved in settling Prince's estate, for instance. It has been more than two years since Prince passed away intestate, and his estate is still unresolved.

Complicating factors

Determining inheritance without a will always creates challenges. But when the deceased is a celebrity, the sheer breadth of assets makes the task of settling an estate particularly complex. Aretha's assets may include:

  • Physical property--such as her home or vehicles
  • Investments, businesses or real estate ventures
  • Unique personal items--such as her Grammy Awards or gold records

In addition, her musical repertoire brings with it a host of intellectual property assets, including:

  • Music copyrights
  • Publishing rights
  • Future royalty payments

Thus, we can expect that Aretha's estate will not be settled anytime soon.

No one wants to imagine their passing resulting in a bitter dispute among their family members. It's therefore important to with an attorney to craft a thorough, legally binding estate plan. This can help ensure that your wishes are carried out once you're gone.

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