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Did Aretha Franklin have a holographic will?

Handwritten wills can potentially be valid if they meet a series of requirements

Aretha Franklin died in August of 2018 and was believed not to have made a Will.  However, in May of 2019, three separate handwritten wills were found in the late singer’s home.  The wills have been filed with the court and a hearing is scheduled for June 12th to determine if any of the written documents satisfy requirements for a Will under Michigan law.

In the case of Laframboise v. Laframboise [2011], the applicant challenged whether or not a handwritten document written by her late husband was a valid holographic will.  The document was titled “The Informal Will and Last Requests of Adam Laframboise”, and contained instructions regarding the disposition of his estate.  The document began with, “Hereby follows my will and last requests” and closed with “please honour what I have stated here.”  The issue here is the language that was used.  It was alleged that the use of the words ‘informal’ and ‘requests’ could suggest that the deceased did not have the requisite testamentary intention.  However, when the document was considered as a whole, the court found that the document did create a fixed and final disposition.  Mr. Laframboise’s use of the word ‘informal’ merely suggested that the document was handwritten and made without the assistance of a legal professional.

In Ontario, there are 3 key requirements for a holographic will under the Succession Law Reform Act (SLRA):

  1. It must be wholly in the handwriting of the testator
  2. It must be signed by the testator
  3. There must be a full and final expression of intention

For more information on holographic wills, see our blog post on the infamous Tractor Fender Will.

A further hearing to determine the validity of the various handwritten documents found at Aretha Franklin’s home, which may be wills, is scheduled to resume on August 6th.

High profile examples of celebrities dying intestate (without a will), such as Prince and Aretha Franklin, highlight the importance of estate planning.  Even if your estate is not extensive or complicated, having a properly executed and well drafted will is going to result in less complex administration, and could help to avoid long and costly legal battles.

The best way to ensure that your wishes for your estate are protected and respected following your death are to meet with a lawyer to draft a valid will.

Daniel & Partners LLP has many experienced lawyers practicing in Wills & Estates.  We offer a full range of services, from simple wills and powers of attorney to complex estate planning, trusts, and guardianship matters.

Contact our office to arrange an initial consultation as soon as possible to get our team started on your case.

Post written by Karen Shedden, associate lawyer.