Where There is a Will…There May be Another Superseding Will by Jeff Mutnik, CPA/PFS

Posted on July 13, 2023

The ongoing saga over Aretha Franklin’s estate finally reached a crescendo on July 11, 2023, when a Michigan jury ruled that a document from 2014 found in a notebook under the performer’s couch cushion was her valid will. Since Franklin’s death in 2018, her children have battled in court regarding the validity of that document versus papers dated 2010 that were found in a locked cabinet of her house. A jury took little time to recognize that the final resting place of a legal document does not undermine the fact that all protocols of a legally binding will were present.

While it is not uncommon for a will to create or enhance divisions among a decedent’s family members, the two documents left behind by the Queen of Soul after her death contained enough financial incentives to pit her children against each other and create potentially irreparable familiar circumstances. Most likely, Franklin did not communicate her wishes to her heirs or make her intentions known regarding the discrepancies between the two documents. However, by avoiding this topic and minimizing family conflicts during her lifetime, she ultimately divided her heirs and created needless legal issues for a court to resolve after her passing.

Estate planning documents are private, but their existence (and hopefully location) should not be a secret one takes to the grave. Proper estate planning includes the orderly transition of assets to beneficiaries while minimizing the costs to do so. This is an important lesson we can all learn.

About the Author: Jeffrey M. Mutnik, CPA/PFS, is a director of Taxation and Financial Services with Berkowitz Pollack Brant Advisors + CPAs, where he provides tax- and estate-planning counsel to high-net-worth families, closely held businesses and professional services firms. He can be reached at the CPA firm’s Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., office at (954) 712-7000 or via email at