Singer Aretha Franklin waves as she is introduced during the NAACP 54th Annual Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner at the Cobo Center in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., on Sunday, May 3, 2009. The union local at General Motors Corp's assembly plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, ratified a local agreement in an attempt to save the factory from closure as the automaker resizes itself in restructuring. Photographer: Gary Malerba/Bloomberg News Aretha Franklin (Photo: Gary Malerba/Bloomberg)

Last year, I wrote that Aretha Franklin and Prince were two icons who had neglected to create a will before they died.

(Related: Don’t Let Your Clients Make the Same Mistake as Aretha Franklin and Prince)

New information is showing that Aretha did, in fact, write a will — three of them, actually.

No one knew about any of these documents at the time of her death, not her four sons, not her lawyer of 40 years.

Aretha was said to be private about her finances. Instead of having her lawyer draft an official will, she elected to write not one but three wills herself: two in 2010 that she locked up in a cabinet and another in 2014 that she stuffed into her couch cushions

Now that the wills have been discovered, her lawyer has filed them. But no one is sure they’ll hold up. There are a lot of questions about whether they’re legal under Michigan law, and two of her four children object to parts of each.

It got me thinking. With all of the conveniences our digital age affords, why isn’t there more flexibility around how, when and where we build our plan for the future? Why can’t we create valid, legal estate planning documents in the comfort of our own homes? I get my groceries delivered to my door, but I have to search high and low to find a legacy planning tool that meets me where I am.

Your clients expect to be able to tackle estate matters at home, where they’re most comfortable. And they want discretion over when and how they engage you. Imagine if Aretha had had access to this technology. Her wills likely wouldn’t be sitting in question, dividing her family over issues like who’s the rightful representative or whether or not to sell the land next to her Oakland County home. Instead of instilling order, her will(s) has created more chaos and confusion — at a time when her family should be allowed to grieve.

People deserve the ability to leverage a system that helps them plan for the future… a system that can guide them through the process, capturing what they’ve created to date, what’s left to be done and whether previous documents need to be revoked, restated, etc. That way, the planner is able to see what’s missing and where they stand in their preparation and can choose to engage a financial professional at the time that’s right for them.

We need to make this process easier for people so that it’s easier for the families left behind. The whole point of estate planning is to provide those who survive with clarity and peace. A well-planned estate gives the family the benefit of knowing they’re helping carry out their loved one’s wishes. It gives them the chance to begin to heal.

— Read 3 Lessons Prince Left Agents and Advisorson ThinkAdvisor.


Michael Babikian (Photo: LegacyShield)Michael Babikian is the chief executive officer of LegacyShield, a financial services exchange built around a family information management system.