When the great artist Aretha Franklin passed away, her family discovered that she had created several wills before she died and that the various drafts had not been accounted for very well. A multi-year probate battle over the contents of her estate was initiated. Recently, a judge upheld the validity of a will draft discovered in the late singer’s couch.
It’s important to take a moment to think about that extraordinary statement. The estate of a woman of great fame and wealth was subjected to years of in-fighting because she did not properly formalize her estate plan and she did not make an effort to properly manage earlier versions of her stated wishes.
Making sure that your estate plan is in order
The primary thing that you need to do to get your affairs in order is to ensure that your estate plan is formalized per state law. The second is that when you inevitably update your documents, you need to make sure that they’re updated in specific ways that will limit the risk of any disputes asserting that your earlier text is more accurate.
Alternatively, you can consider putting together a living trust, which will allow your assets governed by the trust to bypass probate altogether. Additional estate planning resources, including transfer-upon-death designations, can help to minimize the risk of conflict over your estate as well.
In short, you’re going to want to be both thoughtful and proactive when it comes to estate planning. Crafting multiple drafts of your wishes and sticking them in between the cushions on your couch just isn’t going to cut it.