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Aretha Franklin’s Wills, Petty Discord & Emma the Dog

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Aretha Franklin

Sometimes, you can develop a fondness for tasks that used to seem like a chore.  That’s me and the brief.  Having spent more than a decade in newspaper journalism, I compiled plenty of news briefs, collections of news of the day each item boiled down to a paragraph or two.  These days, news bits are everywhere: blogs, Facebook posts, tweets, etc., and now that I have been out of journalism awhile, I appreciate the utility of the quick hit of information.  So toward the end of each month, I’ll round up some developments in estate planning and elder law.  For May, it just so happens that several items involve celebrities. This isn’t intended to be celeb-centric space, but sometimes their estate planning missteps provide important lessons for all of us.  If you see an item out there that would make a good brief, feel free to e-mail me or comment here.

Don’t Do This: Hand-write Three Wills

After Aretha Franklin’s death, people were shocked to discover she had no Will.  As it turns out, she did have a Will.  In fact, she had three!  Three hand-written Wills have been found in the late singer’s residence.  The most recent, dated 2014, is hard to read, has words scribbled out, and was found in a spiral notebook under some cushions.  The other two were in a locked cabinet.  Some family members are objecting to the 2014 version, they are in discussions, and what was already a mess is now messier.  The point of having an estate plan is to make your wishes clear.  We almost never say it’s OK not to have a plan, but if your “plan” confuses everyone, it’s not really a plan.
[What is it about musicians, anyway — and why do we keep writing articles about problems with their estate planning — or lack thereof? Like Prince, or even Robert Johnson, who died in 1938?]

Or This: Fail to Update Your Will

Director John Singleton died with a Will that was 26 years old that gave his entire estate to his only child.  Wills never expire, so what’s the problem?  Since 1993, he had six more kids.  Now, like most places, the law in California steps in to include the omitted children, so they won’t be disinherited.  Under Arizona law, omitted children divide up what the included children received.  So if Singleton had died in Arizona, his seven kids would get his $3.8 million estate in equal shares.  First daughter Justice’s inheritance gets slashed from $3.8 million to $542,857.  Is that justice?  Is that  what Singleton wanted?

Or This: Trust Your Step-family to Get Along

Here’s yet another example of step-relations going south after the passing of the family member that bound them together. And it involves yet another musician. Tom Petty’s daughters have filed suit against their step-mother, accusing her of keeping them from participating in their rightful role under Petty’s estate plan.  He tried to be fair, giving them equal power to make some decisions, but that didn’t work.  With a blended family, an outside administrator can be worth is or her weight in gold.  If nothing else, family members might band together against a common enemy, instead of attacking one another.

Love, Death, and Litigation

Robert Indiana’s estate proves that you don’t have to have any family members to have love-hate litigation.  The artist famous for the iconic 1970 “LOVE” sculpture died with no heirs and left his estate with colleagues whom he trusted to protect his legacy.  Now the administrator of his estate is trying to stop others from reproducing Indiana’s work.  The defending parties say they have contracts that will stand up.  One is quoted as saying: “They just lost the only ally they ever had. I am going to rip them apart. I am done being a nice guy with them. They can all go to hell.”  All they need is love?

Healthy Shih Tzu Goes Out with Owner

You can take your pets with you, or have them taken out with you.  A Virginia woman’s estate plan directed her executor to euthanize Emma, her Shih Tzu, so the two could be buried together, and it appears that at least the euthanasia part was followed.  This sort of thing comes up in law school text books, but rarely do you hear about it happening in real life.  It’s legal (in Arizona, too) because animals are property.  Even Arizona’s animal cruelty laws don’t appear to have an affect.  We tend to think it would be difficult to find a veterinarian who will put down a healthy animal, but apparently they didn’t have that problem in Richmond.

Illinois to Stay on the Estate Taxer List

Illinois, one of the 12 states (plus D.C.) that impose a state estate tax, has been on the verge of repealing its estate tax as part of a collection of tax reforms.  The move of course sparked debate; liberals argued to keep it.  But it appears that the companion bills have broken apart, and estate tax repeal has fallen by the wayside, while income and property tax reform are taking priority as the state’s legislative session winds down.  For now, it looks like Illinois will remain on the state death tax list.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.