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Pattie Lovett-Reid

Chief Financial Commentator, CTV

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Last August, Aretha Franklin passed away without a will in place, leaving her family scrambling to guess her wishes. Her family recently discovered three handwritten wills in her home, the most recent dated 2014. They are now left to decipher these wills, and the big question is: will they hold up in court? They are going to find out because that is exactly what is going to happen, they are going to court.

Why did this happen?

• She likely put it off.  Celebrities are procrastinators too (even when they have every resource at their disposal)
• A feeling of invincibility. When you're the Queen of Soul, you probably feel you'll live forever, and most Canadians probably think death is decades away.
• Not knowing who to trust. The fact that she handwrote her will indicates she may not have trusted her lawyer, or known who to pick as her executor or beneficiaries. A lot of Canadians struggle with the same things.
• Not wanting to talk about death. The fact that it took her family a year to find these handwritten wills means they didn't talk about end-of-life planning.

The reasons someone like Aretha would have such a hard-to-find, handwritten will are the same as many of us:

  • Some will have already put a will in place – years ago. However, their family, the tax laws and their intentions may have changed.
  • Others believe their family will never fight – they will.

“It's always surprising to see a huge celebrity like Aretha Franklin pass away without a will, but the reality is that the majority of people don't take the time to put together an estate plan, regardless of how many assets they have,” Erin Bury, the CEO of online will platform Willful, said in an email. 

“Whether you have an estate the size of the Queen of Soul or not, every Canadian adult with assets and/or children should have a will in place so their families aren't scrambling if the unexpected happens."

The bottom line is if you don’t properly set up a will the provincial government will step in and distribute your assets according to a provincial formula that may or may not be how you would have liked your assets distributed.