Probate Horror Stories

by | Oct 4, 2023

As an estate planning attorney, it is easy for us to emphasize how important it is for your estate to avoid probate because we unfortunately see the worst side of the probate process. We see families fight, relatives stop talking to each other, and money quickly diminishes to pay court costs and attorney fees rather than beneficiaries. The list of issues can go on and on. 

Of course, not all probates end in turmoil. There are plenty of probates where everyone gets along, no one is stressing about the delays with the court, everyone is fine selling the personal belongs, and the family walks away happy. Unfortunately, more often than not, death and money change everything, which leads to a nightmare of a situation.

Prince’s Six-Year Probate Process

The artist, Prince, died in 2016 without a will. He died with no spouse, no children, and no will or trust to divide his assets. His estate, worth around $156 million, had to go through probate. This court process took six years and included many obstacles, which included determining the proper heirs, which ended up being Prince’s six half-siblings and valuing the estate with the IRS.

Aretha Franklin’s Hand-Written Wills

Another well-known artist, Aretha Franklin, did not formally create a plan for her estate. Instead, she wrote two separate wills on her own – one in 2010 and one in 2014. One will was found in a notebook under a couch cushion, while the other will was found in a locked cabinet. 

Typically, the newer will would trump the older will. However, when we are dealing with hand-written wills, or holographic wills, the court needs to determine if it is even considered a valid will, before discussing which one controls distribution. 

The lack of formal documents led to her sons fighting, more than $8 million going to the IRS and a five-year court process, in which a jury had to determine which will would control. 

What Have We Learned? 

Even though most of our estates are not valued anywhere near Prince or Aretha Franklin, there are key takeaways from their estate battles: 

  1. It is important to plan ahead. Take the time to meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure your family does not have to go through a costly probate process.
  2. Business owners require some additional planning. If you own a business, it is important to make sure that business transfers in accordance with your wishes.
  3. Do not write your own will. Writing your own will can cause confusion, especially when you want to change something and/or leave something out. 


Schedule a free initial consultation to learn more about what type of estate plan will keep your family out of probate!