Estate planning

Estate planning tips inspired by Aretha Franklin’s “The Couch Testament.”


A Michigan jury ruled so The will in Aretha Franklin’s sofa is valid, hoping to end an uphill five-year battle over her property. Five years of wrangling and legal fees may not have been what the legendary singer envisioned for her family after her death. However, the arguments – and more – are what could happen if you don’t have a proper estate plan.

While Franklin’s case may be a bit extreme, it still took an average of 400 hours over 16 months and a $12,400 fee to finalize an estate, according to a study commissioned by ClearEstate, an estate planning and settlement firm. But that doesn’t have to be the case for your loved ones.

Consider these five estate planning tips for creating your own family respect Your wishes. Otherwise, your property may be settled It hurts like hell.

1. Start with some basic tools

When creating estate plan“You’re creating a toolbox,” says Patrick Simasko, a senior law attorney and financial advisor at Simasko Law in Mount Clemens, Michigan. “Aretha Franklin had one tool: a will that she made herself,” Simasko says. Although a will is a powerful estate planning tool, there are other simple tools you need to protect yourself and your loved ones – in life and in death.

will or trust

When they go to work: At your death (but a living trust, during your lifetime)

Why are powerful toolskisa: because you can tell what it is

Often viewed as the cornerstone of any estate plan, a will or trust details who gets what and when after your death. Although contemplating death is not anyone’s favorite topic, going through the process puts your loved ones through a similar struggle to the Franklin family.

If your finances and assets are relatively straightforward, you may find that a basic will suits your needs. A trust can be a better tool if your finances are more complicated — or if you live in a state where the probate process is known to take some time. Fortunately, we have two guides to help you learn more: All you need to know about wills and a Evidence of confidence.

Living will

When he goes to work: During your life

Why is it such a powerful tool: It is a document that can relieve the stress of your loved ones

Time to talk about the worst, guys. If the unthinkable happens, for example, a car accident or a heart attack, you are unlikely to be able to make your own decisions about emergency care. A living will tells doctors and other medical professionals what you want to do (or not do) to prolong your life.

For example, you may need all the bells and whistles today – CPR, life support, and more. But your feelings may change later in life or if you suffer from a prolonged illness. A living will prevents your loved ones from making these decisions at a difficult time.

Medical power of attorney (POA)

When he goes to work: During your life

Why is it such a powerful toolThis document designates a person you trust to direct your medical care

Everyone has a family member where They would rather go blind Who put this person in charge of their own health care decisions. So channel the late, great Etta James to make your family respect your decision the Aretha way and designate someone you trust to make your health care decisions if you can’t.

With a medical power of attorney, you can name someone who can make decisions about your medical care if you are unable to. Many hospitals can help you obtain primary medical power of attorney if you are accepted for care. You can also make one in advance. Just make sure the person you appoint as power of attorney knows they have been appointed and has a copy of the document.

Financial power of attorney

When he goes to work: During your life

Why is it such a powerful toolThis document designates a person you trust to manage your money

Aretha Franklin’s net worth is over $80 million. And even though you may not have much in the bank, your money still deserves the attention of someone you trust. A financial power of attorney appoints someone to handle financial matters in the event you are unable to do so.

A financial power of attorney can cover financial decisions large and small, such as simply giving someone permission to pay your electric bill from your home current account If you are incapacitated in hospital or have been sent abroad.

Guardianship orders

When they go to work: When you die

Why are powerful tools: It protects your children, which is very nice

If you have children, imagining that you won’t be around to see them grow up is the worst idea possible. This is why parents and legal guardians with minor children need to create guardianship orders. “Once you start a family, this is a good time to make sure you have the necessary paperwork, so there will be someone to take care of your minor children and take care of their finances,” Simasko says.

You can set up guardianship orders through your will or trust. On these documents, you can name your children’s preferred legal guardian (possibly your child’s other parent or family member). You can also appoint secondary guardians if something prevents your first choice from taking responsibility.

2. Make a list of your assets (and liabilities)

Any well-planned estate will try to minimize the task required of the person you have appointed to carry out your wishes, says David Pisano, co-founder and CEO of ClearEstate. Why? Most people who have served as executors or trustees for the estate of a deceased loved one say that the experience was one of the most difficult of their lives.

To ease the workload of the executor (will) or trustee (trust), take the time to prepare a list of your current assets, liabilities, and digital accounts. This list should include things like:

  • Bank accounts. Include all checking and savings accounts, including bank and account numbers. If you have access to online banking, include your username and password.
  • investment accounts. From brokerage accounts to retirement accounts like a Roth IRA or your employer’s 401(k), write down your username, password, website, and, if necessary, the phone number of the company that maintains the accounts.
  • Unpaid loans. Your mortgage, car loan, and any personal loans should be listed, including contact information for each lender.
  • credit card accounts. Don’t forget to include your major and store credit cards (such as your Amazon card).
  • Life insurance documents. Include the policy number, value, and contact information for the insurance company.
  • Online accounts. This can include streaming subscriptions, meal kit services, and more.
  • Email accounts. Include your email addresses and passwords.

If you’re concerned about the security of having all this information on a piece of paper in your desk drawer, consider using a digital vault. “In the past, people used safe deposit boxes at the bank or other mechanisms at home, but I see the digital solution as being safer than these traditional solutions,” says Pisano.

Digital safes are also designed to give the executor access upon death. In contrast, financial institutions may force your executor to jump through hoops to access a safe deposit box.

Tip 3: Name the beneficiaries on all of your accounts

Although Aretha’s references may be running out, naming her beneficiaries – and everywhere possible – is extremely important. Even if you forget to write a will (or lose it in the sofa cushion), designating beneficiaries in some accounts means they can bypass probate — the legal process of validating a will — and distribute the assets directly to the people you’ve named.

In fact, the designations of the beneficiaries go beyond the will. So, even if your will says that Johnny should get your IRA, if the beneficiary of your IRA is Tommy, Tommy gets it.

You can – and should – put beneficiaries on accounts such as:

  • Bank accounts
  • Taxable brokerage accounts
  • Individual retirement accounts (IRAs)
  • 401(k) and other employer-sponsored retirement accounts

You can also use joint registrations on certain assets and accounts through joint tenants with rights of survivorship (JTWROS). This registration type automatically transfers ownership of the account to the co-owner upon your death.

Alternatively, you can register the account as a transfer on death (TOD), which means your share of the estate will go to your designated beneficiary upon your death.

Assets that can be registered as JTWROS or TOD include:

  • Non-retirement bank accounts
  • Non-retirement brokerage accounts
  • Real estate, such as your home address
  • vehicles

Tip 4: Get help from a lawyer (which doesn’t have to be expensive)

Thanks to the Internet, you can make almost anything yourself these days, but that doesn’t mean you should. Online estate planning sites have “great documents,” but they’re only as good as the person… when put together, Simasko says — and that person is you.

If you have questions about the estate planning documents you create online or prefer an attorney to handle the entire process, there’s no shame in seeking help.

Many online estate planning websites offer selective consultations with an attorney. You can also contact an estate planning attorney (many of whom are board certified, depending on the state) or an elder law attorney.

Before engaging an attorney, it may be helpful to read online reviews and check your state bar association’s website for any complaints or disciplinary actions against them.

Tip 5: Talk to me, talk to me

In all honesty, talking about death probably isn’t your favorite thing to do. But starting a difficult conversation with those you love can make things much easier when you’re gone. “One of the biggest issues with death is that we don’t talk about it,” Pisano says.

There is no one right way to explain to your loved ones what you have put in your estate planning documents. You can have a 36,000-foot-wide conversation that outlines just the basics: the name of your executor or trustee, who will serve as your power of attorney, and any other details about who gets what you want to share. You can also put everything in detail. You know your family and loved ones best, and you can choose the approach that you feel works best.

And if you want to check whether your parents are doing well, Simasko says sharing that you recently completed your estate plan can be a conversation starter.

“They’ll say it’s all right because in 1984, they took you to Disneyland and carried out their will,” he says, but adds that an individual approach may not be enough.

Just think how differently things would have gone if one of Aretha’s children had asked about her estate plan. Would Will have emerged from the sofa cushion and saved years of struggle? maybe. But everyone’s estate plan deserves a regular checkup — and a scheduled checkup for important life events like buying a home, moving, getting married, divorced, and passing.


Aretha Franklin deserves to be remembered for her music, not the dangers of an estate planning mistake. Her legacy will live on in her songs, and these estate planning tips can make sure your legacy — no matter how big — does the same for those you love.


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