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Celebrity Estate Planning: Burt Reynolds vs Aretha Franklin

Fact Checked by Jason Herring & Barry Brooksby
Licensed Agents & Life Insurance Experts.
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burt reynolds aretha franklin estate plan

Recent Celebrity Deaths Show the Need for Comprehensive Estate Planning

Several well known celebrities have died in recent months, some leaving behind well planned wills and estate plans and, in other instances, the celebrity’s death can serve as an example of what chaos can potentially ensue when someone dies intestate, or without a will, particularly where the person may have had substantial assets at the time of his or her death like many celebrities do.

For example…

Singer Aretha Franklin died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 76 on August 16th without a will or any other sort of estate plan, despite leaving an estate valued at more than $80 million.


Actor Burt Reynolds also died at age 82 of a sudden heart attack at his home in South Florida on September 6th, but he showed the value of good advance estate planning by leaving behind a well-planned out will as well as a trust for the benefit of his son.

These examples only highlight the absolute importance of having a well-crafted estate plan when you die, whether that is accomplished through the vehicle of a living trust that is set up prior to someone’s death, a testamentary trust or a last will and testament.

This is true just as in many cases…

Because one of the worst thing someone can do is to die without some sort of estate planning performed ahead of time in the form of a last will and testament or a revocable trust.


As is often the case with celebrities like Aretha Franklin and Burt Reynolds, the person is leaving behind a sizeable estate.  This virtually guarantees there will be fights over the decedent’s estate and how it is divided and can also make the size of the estate and the jockeying that may go on after a person’s death, particularly where the decedent is famous and the estate is sizeable, a matter of public record.

Singer Aretha Franklin Dies Intestate in Michigan

Now if we look at the case of singer Aretha Franklin who passed away on August 16th at the age of 76 from pancreatic cancer.  At the time of her death, she failed to leave behind a will or other estate plan which we imagine will be particularly troublesome considering that her estate worth is estimated to be right around $80 million at the time of her death (according to a Washington Post article).

Complicating matters…

Is that fact that Franklin was unmarried at the time of her death and died with four sons.  Now under Michigan law, each of her four sons should receive equal shares of the estate.  Which should help in the allocation of here assets however, one of Arethra’s sons has special needs and is represented by a legal guardian which could potentially require a sizeable amount of money for his future care needs.


Unfortunately, by dying without a will, Franklin gave up an opportunity to carve out a special portion of her estate for this one son to ensure he would be taken care of for the rest of his life.  And given the sheer size of Franklin’s estate, there is likely to be some sort of fight as more distant relatives may crawl out of the woodwork and attempt to grab a piece of the proverbial pie.

In addition…

Her own entertainment attorney, Los Angeles attorney Don Wilson, told CNN that, over his years representing Franklin in connection with her copyright, song publishing and record deals, he had told her she needed to set up a trust numerous times but she simply never got around to doing so.

As a result….

Her estate and its administration will not only unfold in the public eye in the probate court but all the details regarding any the size of her estate as well as any fights that break out over the estate’s administration will also be a matter of public record.

Actor Burt Reynolds Dies With a Will, But Leaves Nothing to His Son, the Beneficiary of a Pre-Existing Trust

Conversely, actor Burt Reynolds (82) also recently died on September 6th after suffering a sudden and fatal heart attack at his home in South Florida leaving behind only a single survivor, his son.


Despite a well-publicized history of financial problems, including filing for personal bankruptcy in 1996, Reynolds reportedly left behind an estate valued at $5 million.

Indeed, he did come in for some criticism because he did not leave anything to his son in his will according to an article from Extra.

However, Reynolds had created a separate trust for his son prior to his death and it appeared most of his assets were placed in the trust according to documents obtained by several media outlets.

His stated rationale in his will for leaving his son out of his will was that the trust had provided for him.

Reynold’s had a well-prepared and thought-through estate plan and serves as a stark contrast to that of Aretha Franklin.

There will be little left to chance in the case of Burt Reynolds and the disposition of his assets and property due to his excellent estate-planning efforts prior to his death. 

The Importance of Having a Comprehensive Estate Plan-Ahead of Time

The varying approaches taken by these two celebrities towards their respective estate planning highlight the importance of having a written last will and testament or some other form of estate planning tool.


And as was the case with Burt Reynolds, someone can unexpectedly die at any time.  This is why it’s never too early to be prepared because if you do pass away suddenly and you lack a will or other formal estate plan, then some of the most important decisions regarding what will happen to your assets and other worldly goods upon your death is left to the whims of your particular state’s inheritance laws.

In addition…

As pointed out by Aretha Franklin’s attorney to CNN, those who die intestate will have their entire probate proceeding play out in the public eye.

“And who really wants that to happen?”


If you are like Aretha Franklin and die without a will, then you are at the mercy of whatever your state has provided for the distribution of your assets and property upon your death.


Like Aretha Franklin, you had a relative with special needs whom you wanted to provide for in your will or have some other “special request” that you want to make clear of after your gone, then you would be unable to do so if you died intestate.


We here at I&E want to point out that you don’t need to be an international celebrity with millions of dollars at stake to need or be able to “finance” last will or living trust.  These are very simple legal documents that can be created at a very affordable cost.

The trick is…

Doing it.  You see, like in the case of Aretha Franklin, sometimes we just don’t want to think about what will happen when we’re gone.  Even when we’ve been diagnosed with a serious medical condition like cancer.  The good news is that if you haven’t already created a will or a living trust for yourself yet, you still have time and the fact that you’re reading this article is a good sign that you’re ready to take that next step.

So, what are you waiting for?  Give us a call today and see what we can do for you!

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