Striking the wrong note: how legal disharmony has broken out over the Queen of Soul’s dying wishes  

SHE was one of the world’s legendary music stars, dubbed the Queen of Soul.

But a right Royal row over her final wishes has blown up after it was revealed that Aretha Franklin did not leave a will – despite amassing a multi-million pound fortune.

One of the biggest-selling artists of all time, she left her fans a musical legacy of 17 top ten chart hits. But in her private life, her financial legacy is at now the centre of a bitter legal dispute.

She died of pancreatic cancer last August, aged 76.

But already harmony has given way to discord as her large family of children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins; her former husbands; and the US tax department are all lining up to lay claim to her assets.

The number of people mounting a legal challenge to a dead person’s estate – known as contested probate – is not confined to the States.

Contested probate is also very much on the increase across Yorkshire and the wider UK.

In fact official court figures revealed that there was a six per cent rise last year in the number of people disputing the bequests of a family member or friend. There were over 8,000 cases attempting to block probate.

But rarely are the divisions played out in front of the world – and the media front pages – in such a high-profile case across the Atlantic as this.

Whether you are mounting or defending a legal challenge, Milners are experts in the specialised field of contested probate.

Our contested probate team, based at Leeds, Harrogate and Pontefract, is skilled and experienced in alternative dispute resolution and mediation.

We are focused on resolving disputes about probate quickly and cost effectively – and out of the glare of the media.

Regrettably, this does not seem a route that those fighting for a share in Franklin’s past fortune and lucrative future royalties are prepared to explore.

The crux of the problem is that she left no will or trust to determine what should happen to her estate, which music industry insiders say is worth tens of millions of dollars.

One insider said: “She understood the need. It just didn’t seem to be something she got around to.”

It’s a scenario that presents itself all too often here at a Milners, where a person has either not made a will or trust or failed update it for many years, despite major changes to his or her life. You can read more about the importance of leaving a will here.

By their very nature, contested probate claims can be large and complex, and present their own set of unique challenges. Sadly, as with Franklin, they can also give rise to further fall-outs and feuds.

Where our contested probate team differs is that we take these challenges and sensitivities on board to ensure that wherever possible the legal process follows the smoothest path, and achieves the best possible outcome for you.

If you would like to find out more about our  expertise in contested probate, whether you are making or defending a claim, please contact the author of this article, our Head of Commercial Litigation, Oliver Cashman, on 0113 245 0852 or email

To contact a member of our wills, trusts and probate team, please get in touch with Jessica Savage on 0113 245 0852 or email Jessica will be able to answer your questions about obtaining or changing or updating a will. 

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