Many Rocket City citizens were pleasantly surprised to see the headline last week that rock and roll legend Little Richard will be buried at Oakwood University’s Oakwood Memorial Gardens. Little Richard, who was born Richard Penniman, attended Oakwood University in the 1950s. Although Little Richard sold the publishing rights to his music decades ago, his estate is rumored to be up to $40 million.
So now we know Little Richard will be buried in Huntsville, but could his Estate be probated here also? The answer is it’s possible but not likely. In most jurisdictions, a decedent’s Estate is typically probated in the county in which he or she died. However, under Ala. Code § 43-8-162(3), if Little Richard died leaving assets in Madison County, his estate could be probated here. While this scenario doesn’t appear especially likely, neither did his burial in Madison County. Little Richard could have also designated Madison County as the venue for the probate of his Estate in his Will pursuant to Ala. Code § 43-8-162(5) if he owned property here.
The more likely scenario is that Little Richard’s estate will be probated in Davidson County, Tennessee, where the singer reportedly lived at the time of his death – that is, if his estate requires probate at all. For many people, particularly those with large or complex assets or out-of-state property, a trust makes sense as an estate planning tool. Effective estate planning also helps avoid the dreaded estate tax, which currently stands at up to 40% of estates over $11.58 million for a single person in 2020 ($23,160,000 for a married person through portability). If Little Richard successfully transferred his assets to a trust prior to his death, his estate would not require probate. The privacy offered by a trust may have also appealed to Little Richard, who lived a quiet life free of the public eye in his later years.
If Little Richard transferred all of his assets to a Trust (or otherwise transferred all asset out of his name prior to his death), the world may never know who ended up with the bulk his estate, but that doesn’t keep us from speculating. Richard’s adopted son, Danny Jones Penniman, is reported to have had a good relationship with his father, and will likely inherit some, if not all, of the Estate. Richard also maintained strong ties with religious organizations; they could also see a substantial windfall.Of course, no Will has been produced, nor have we seen any clear evidence that Richard had a Trust. As such, it’s entirely possible that what’s left of Richard’s estate after Estate taxes will pass to his son under the applicable statute of intestacy, as was the case with Aretha Franklin, Prince, and many others.
Hopefully, we’ll know more about the condition of Little Richard’s Estate in the coming days and may even answer the questions of who gets what and how much.