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Deceased celebrities without wills expose estates to disputes

The recent death of Aretha Franklin, known as the Queen of Soul, reveals the problems that can arise when someone in Florida dies without preparing a will or placing assets in a trust. After dying of pancreatic cancer, she left an estate with a value of approximately $80 million. Her assets include the rights to some of her famous songs. Her four sons have filed court papers as interested parties in the estate that now must be processed by a probate court. Franklin reportedly had an estate lawyer, but that person has not made any comments to the media.

Another lawyer who represented her for many years on entertainment matters said that he asked her to build a trust. He said that a trust could have allowed her estate to be processed privately and more quickly than a probate court. The lawyer worried openly to the media that the estate could end up contested by the potential heirs. He said that whenever a will or trust is absent, disputes often follow.

For example, when actor Robin Williams died, he left no instructions about his estate. His third wife and three children are now fighting over it. The lack of an estate plan for the assets of the late Prince has created a similar situation as a probate court considers how to deal with the artist's substantial estate.

The desire to control the distribution of an estate and limit disputes among heirs typically motivates people to write a will. A person in need of estate planning strategies could speak with a lawyer. To meet goals like funding an education, limiting taxes on heirs or protecting heirs from creditors, a lawyer could suggest ideas for gifting assets, setting up a trust or addressing everything within a will.

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