The Team

The danger of having multiple Wills
The danger of having multiple Wills

There is an inherent danger in having multiple Wills, especially if they are all handwritten. This problem was acutely examined in the recent case involving the family of the late Aretha Franklin.

What happened in the Aretha Franklin case?

The famous late singer died in 2018. At the time of her death, her four sons did not believe that she had made a Will. They agreed to share the estate equally amongst them.

In 2019, two handwritten Wills were found in the late singer’s house. The first was found in a locked cabinet. This Will was created in 2010, was around a dozen pages long and signed on every page. It was also notarised.

The second Will dated from 2014 and was found under a cushion on the couch in the lounge in the late singer’s home.

The reason for the problem was that the family did not know which Will should be used to deal with the late singer's estate.

What differences were there between the Wills?

The Wills contained similar provisions but differed in key areas. For instance, the earlier Will directed that each of the sons would receive weekly and monthly allowances. However, it also stipulated that two of the sons, Kecalf and Edward, “must take business classes and get a certificate of a degree”.

The later Will directed that three of the sons would share equally in the estate. Her son Clarence has mental health issues and the other sons agreed to share their shares with him irrespective of the outcome. Importantly, the second Will bequeathed Aretha Franklin’s house to Kecalf along with a selection of motor cars. The house alone, at the time, was valued at $1.1million.

How was the conflict decided?

As seems to be the case with celebrity estates, the conflict was resolved through court proceedings raised in Michigan USA. Two of the children, Kecalf and Edward, raised proceedings against Jack White, Aretha Franklin’s other son, seeking to have the second Will established as the one to be followed. After a two-day Trial in July 2023, a jury decided that the second Will should prevail.

Why is this important?

Whilst this case was decided in America, the basic principles are the same. Where there are two competing Wills, it is important to work out which one should prevail.

The fact that both Wills were handwritten does not help because it adds an element of informality that often causes problems. As can be seen in an earlier article, making handwritten notes on the back of an envelope is not a good way to make changes to a Will.

Frequently, uncertain and unclear content in a Will leads to confusion, delay and expense. Court proceedings take time and are, usually, expensive, whoever wins. Indeed, if the later Will in the Franklin case had included a clause revoking the prior Will, it is unlikely that there would have been any dispute.

What should I do if I want to make or change a Will?

Our advice is to obtain professional advice. By doing so, not only will you ensure your Will is valid but also that your intentions for your loved ones can be fulfilled without confusion.

We help and advise many clients on drawing up their Wills every year. We are well placed to give you sound, practical and, importantly, legal advice. By doing do, we will help you draw up a perfectly valid Will designed to meet your needs.

If you would like assistance on drawing up or reviewing your Will, please contact us.