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Three wills triple Aretha Franklin estate problems

Aretha Franklin's estate was always complicated and has become even more difficult. Three handwritten wills were recently discovered in her home. Discovery of these homemade documents are going to pose difficulties with ongoing probate litigation.

Michigan law may recognize two of these wills dated June 21, 2010 and March 31, 2014. The third document, a one-page note written and dated later in 2010 also states that is a will but does not contain any direction on who is to inherit her property, administer her estate or other important clauses that are normally contained in wills.

The Oakland County Probate Court will hold a preliminary hearing on June 12 to determine whether any of these documents are valid wills. It is expected that her four sons will object to the admission of some of these documents.

Usually, these type of issues will not be resolved at the first hearing. The court will likely provide the parties time to investigate documents, take depositions, attempt negotiations or engage in mediation. Another longer proceeding is anticipated later to obtain evidence.

Two Michigan laws likely govern this case. First, a valid homemade will must be in writing, signed by the person who created it or at her direction, dated and written and signed in the creator's handwriting. The court must also find that the document was intended to be the person's will.

Next, documents that are intended to serve as a will may be valid even if the other legal requirements are not met. The court must find that there is clear and convincing evidence that the homemade document was intended to be a will even if it was not signed or other formalities were not met.

To deal with these laws, the court will likely take testimony of professionals who worked with Franklin and others about her wishes. The language of the documents will be closely reviewed to determine if these documents reveal her wishes on distributing her assets.

Other issues will need to be resolved. These include the meaning of her handwritten notations in her documents. An executor will also have to be appointed because Franklin's documents are ambiguous on this matter.

This dispute indicates the importance of estate planning and proper drafting for all of us. An attorney can help assure that this is done correctly.

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