Why It Matters

When Aretha Franklin died last week, we lost something much more profound than simply our Queen of Soul – now not just her estimated $80 million estate could be in jeopardy – her LEGACY too.

“Nothing sounded better to me than the way my grandma sings. Her voice made you feel something,” Victorie Franklin, Aretha Franklin’s granddaughter said during the funeral of the legendary artist. “You felt every word, every note, every emotion in the songs she sang. Her voice brought peace,” she added.

The “queen of soul” who died on August 16th at the age of 76 from a pancreatic cancer, was laid to rest after a funeral service at Detroit’s Greater Grace Temple last Friday. 

I first encountered Aretha Franklin in the pile of vinyl records my elder brother, left behind when going to university. The Beatles’ “Revolver” caught my eye, but it was that stunning cover of

Aretha_Franklin_–_I_Never_Loved_a_Man_the_Way_I_Love_You family business consultants oumamuga.com
Aretha Franklins cover Photo [Photo Courtesy]
“I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You” that captivated me most of all. Peering out from it, Aretha Franklin looked amazing, but also intense — even a bit Deeply private in life,vulnerable.

I put the record on and was transfixed. I didn’t know anything about Ms. Franklin, or her already epic career – let alone that she was an iconic superstar. I didn’t even know the difference between R&B, soul music and rock and roll. I just knew I couldn’t get enough.

And so I played the record over and over, much to the chagrin of my parents. The voice….! The skill …. and attitude ……were undeniable. It also seemed effortless…..

Ms. Franklin, was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in 1987. She was also the most-charted female performer on the Billboard Top 100 for 40 years. And she won 18 Grammy Awards during her career.

More recently, perhaps, you will recall her magnificent performance at the inauguration of President Obama…

There are a few music legends who changed the game so much that they were the blueprint for everything that came after them: Elvis Presley. The Beatles. The Rolling Stones.  Ray Charles. James Brown. Bob Dylan.

Aretha Franklin  is in this exclusive club.

Deeply private in life, the ‘queen of soul’  – Aretha Franklin’s – estate will be however be laid bare for all to see, as according to court documents, she died without having a will or trust in place.

It’s emerged; documents filed in court by her four sons, this week, acknowledge the absence of a will and named themselves as parties interested in her estate. The relevant clause reads: “The decedent died intestate and after exercising reasonable diligence, I am unaware of any unrevoked testamentary instrument relating to property located in this state….” And, Franklin’s niece, Sabrina Owens, asked to be appointed as the estate’s personal representative.

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Aretha Franklin sons Aretha Franklin dies without a will Lessons family business consultants oumamuga.com
Part of Aretha Franklins Family [Photo Courtesy]
Ms. Franklin whose burial is scheduled for 31st August 2018, appears to have not followed her own advice and taken some time to “think”.  Remember her song “think”? She now joins a long list of celebrities who died without a will.

Unfortunately, such is all too often the case : Many celebrities, the most recent and notable example being Prince Rogers Nelson’s [better known simply as “Prince”], and the list is long and growing Barry White, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain—all who unexpectedly died without a will.

Brewing Conflict: there’s no indication [at least for the moment] that any of the parties are in conflict. All is not lost as the family shows signs of cooperation by swiftly agreeing to appoint Ms. Franklin’s niece, Sabrina Garrett Owens, to administer the estate.

The family seems to be on the same page, which is crucial when potentially large estates [Ms. Franklin’s exact net worth though unknown, is estimated at roughly $80 million and includes the rights to a number of her hit songs] pass through a long legal process.

What Really Matters; However what really matters is not Aretha Franklin’s estate—i.e., the assets she died owning—but her legacy.

What matters today is not what Ms. Franklin was worth. What matters today is who Ms. Franklin was.

Her Legacy Aretha Franklin was more than just a soulful singer. She was an icon. Her music career began during the civil rights movement in the 1960’s. Over time, the strength of her voice became matched only by the strength of her life. Ms. Franklin was a symbol of perseverance and power—female power, black power, human power. She was a beacon of hope and her signature hit song, “Respect,” became a battle cry for freedom and equality.

What matters today is not what Ms. Franklin was worth. What matters today is who Ms. Franklin was.

Aretha Franklin dies without a will Lessons family business consultants oumamuga.com
Aretha Franklin singing at President Obama Inauguration Ceremony [Photo Courtesy]
The challenge; Ms. Franklin’s children should be worried about the incredible responsibility they have just been handed—the responsibility to protect, preserve and celebrate the legacy of their mother, Aretha Franklin.

The assets through which Ms. Franklin’s legacy will live—her “legacy assets”—are being divided [along with the rest of her estate] among her four children.

Think about it, even if the four children get along for now, or forever, Aretha Franklins’ legacy will live on long after her children are all deceased.  The big ticket question is what happens then? Will her legacy assets be further divided among the heirs of four separate families, and then among the families of those families, and so on?

Such carelessness will inevitably result in the mismanagement of Aretha Franklin’s legacy. It is not a question of if it will happen, but when.

A heads-up though: In a recent interview with Franklin’s long-time entertainment lawyer, Don Wilson didn’t paint a particularly optimistic picture. “I was after her for a number of years to do a trust,” he said. “It would have expedited things and kept them out of probate and kept things private.”

Wilson who represented Franklin in entertainment matters for the past 28 years, noted, “I just hope [Franklin’s estate] doesn’t end up getting so hotly contested. Any time they don’t leave a trust or will, there always ends up being a fight.“

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Some Lessons So, let’s get back to all hope not being lost. This is the opportunity for Ms. Franklin’s children to put aside their own personal interests and to focus on what really matters—their mother’s legacy.

  • Though Ms. Franklin herself failed to implement a legacy plan, it is incumbent upon her heirs [the children in this case] to NOT carry her mistakes forward BUT to take action where she has failed.
  • NOW is the opportunity for Ms. Franklin’s children to RALLY TOGETHER and create a proper legacy plan that ensures Aretha Franklin’s legacy will live on and continue to impact audiences all over the world for many generations to come, all while benefiting her family economically.
  • Now is the opportunity to truly show Ms. Franklin what a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T actually means – Respect was one of her greatest songs

Unworthy of Emulation The potential for things to fall apart when you pass away without giving instructions on how your wealth – and more importantly your legacy – should be managed is all too common and flatly unworthy of emulation.

Put some thought to it then go back to having discussions about accumulating more, …….. .



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