By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

Having been an estate planning attorney now for 20 years, I’m always on the lookout for interesting news and stories that I can use as an example to help my clients avoid serious problems when it comes to their own estate planning. The most recent story that I’ve learned of that is interesting and helpful is that of Aretha Franklin, who was known as the queen of soul.

Aretha Franklin died of cancer in August of 2018 at the age of 76. Her longtime personal attorney stated that he had been after her for a number of years to get her estate planning done including a written will. She was extremely private about her own finances and never consulted her personal attorney about getting her estate planning done. In fact, shortly after her death it was reported that she had no estate planning completed and that her estate would have to be distributed pursuant to the intestate laws that applied. However, it’s recently come to light that she did in fact have a written last will and testament. In fact, it appears that she had three of them. The problem is, that none of these Wills was created by a lawyer.

Apparently, family members who have been going through her home and taking care of her personal property have reportedly found three different Wills that she wrote in her own handwriting. These are known as a holographic Will.

Holographic Wills are enforceable in most States. The problem is, that without an attorney assisting the person in creating the document, a holographic Will usually has a number of deficiencies that can create serious problems. In the case of Aretha Franklin, all three Wills have been presented to the court, who will now have to determine if any or all of the holographic Wills are enforceable.

The problem this creates is that the court may determine that Aretha Franklin’s money, property, and other assets, are to be distributed to persons that Aretha Franklin herself may not have wanted to have received those items. In other words, it’s unclear whether Aretha Franklin’s wishes will actually be carried out. Additionally, because of the confusion that could exist in this case, there could be large litigation costs and expenses which could take money, property, and assets away from the estate that should be going to her loved ones.

Idaho is a state which allows holographic Wills to be used. In my career, I’ve often come across holographic Wills that clients have prepared. In doing so, and in reading through these Wills, I can tell you that without exception, they’re almost always problems with what is written in the holographic Will.

When I talk to clients about why they chose to do a holographic Will, rather than go to an attorney, they almost always universally tell me that they were trying to save money. However, in almost every instance, the holographic Will would have cost more money to have dealt with through the probate process than what had been saved by avoiding using an attorney in the first place. The bottom line is, if you’re going to have a written Will, you should get assistance from a qualified estate planning attorney who can help you in completing a plan that meets your wishes, and that will carry out what you specifically want.


If you have any questions about your estate or how to simplify your plans for your family and loved ones, we can help.  Call us toll free at 877-232-6101 or 208-232-6101 for a consultation with Lane Erickson and the Racine Olson team of Estate Planning attorneys in Idaho. You can also email Lane Erickson directly at We will answer your questions and will help you solve your Idaho Estate Planning problems.


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