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Aretha Franklin dies without a will: what happens next?

Soul queen Aretha Franklin sadly passed away recently at the age of 76, leaving behind an estate worth approximately $80 million, however according to court documents the music legend did not have a will in place at the time of her death, meaning that she died intestate. So what happens to her assets and the rest of her estate and who will inherit her fortune?

Had Aretha Franklin passed away in England or Wales without a will, here’s what would happen to everything that she had left behind.

Dying intestate

If you die intestate then your estate (everything you own) will be distributed as per the rules of intestacy. If a will wasn’t created then these rules will override any wishes the deceased may have had before their death, meaning the estate might not be distributed the way they wanted.

Who gets what?


If you are married and your spouse is still alive, then they will inherit everything if your estate is worth £250,000 or less. However, if like Aretha Franklin your estate is worth more than that, how your estate is distributed will depend on how much the estate is worth as well as other factors such as whether you have any relatives who are alive once you have passed away.

If your estate is valued at £325,000 or more you may be subject to inheritance tax, however, this can depend on who the money goes to.

Unfortunately, if you are a couple who live together but you’re not married, you will have no rights under intestacy rules. Unlike married couples, the estate will not automatically pass to those who aren’t married.

In this scenario, your assets would go to your next of kin, whether that be your children, grandchildren or if you have neither of those, your estate will pass to your parents or even your nieces and nephews.


If you’re not married, widowed or in a civil partnership, your estate will pass to any children you have.

Can your family change the way your estate is distributed after you’ve passed away if you haven’t made a will?

In this situation, it can be possible to alter the way an estate is distributed among surviving family members. In order to do this, it’s necessary to complete a Deed of Variation. This Deed will allow anyone who stands to benefit from the deceased’s estate to alter the way assets are distributed. If this is something you would like to do or discuss, get in touch with our private client team who will be able to advise you on the steps you need to take if it’s possible to submit a Deed of Variation.

If you wish to pursue a Deed of Variation then you may be able to do so, both before or after probate has been granted, however, you will only have 2 years to attempt to make any changes following the death of the person in question.

There are many reasons why one may wish to change the way a will is distributed among beneficiaries. Reasons can range from balancing out how much each beneficiary receives should one party be left more than the others. If someone has been left out of a will, then it may be possible to change it to include them in the distribution of the estate.

No living relatives?

In England and Wales, the law states that if you have no living relatives then your estate will pass to the crown. However, on occasion, an heir hunter will be employed on behalf of the estate to track down any long-lost relatives who may be able to make a claim against the estate.

Got a question about your will?

A will is an essential document that can ensure your wishes are respected in the event of your death. Having one in place can mean that your estate will be distributed in the way you would like, and can mean that you decrease the distress and suffering of your loved ones at an already difficult time during the period after your death.

Whether you want to create your will, discuss an existing one or would like to discuss your options relating to trusts or LPAs, our Private Client team will be able to assist you.

To speak to one of our experts please call us on 0800 1979 345 or complete our online enquiry form and we’ll get back to you at a time that better suits you.

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