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Handwritten Document Found Stuffed in Aretha Franklin’s Couch After Her Death is a Valid Will, Jury Finds as Sons Battle Over Her $6Million Estate


A jury has found that a document handwritten by Aretha Franklin and found stuffed in her couch after her 2018 death is a valid will.

Two handwritten wills, one written in 2010 and another in 2014, became the center of a years-long battle over Franklin’s $6million estate turning her sons against one another.

The decision comes as a win for Franklin’s sons Kecalf and Edward who argued that the papers found in the couch dated 2014 should override a 2010 will.

The 2010 will was discovered at the same time in a locked cabinet – her other son, Ted White II, aka Teddy Richards, believes it to be the rightful will.

Handwritten document found stuffed in Aretha Franklin

The main difference between the two documents is who Franklin designated as her executors, as White and Franklin’s niece were named in the 2010 document, while sons, Kecalf and Edward were named in the 2014 one.

The jury is slated to hear closing arguments at the brief trial.

Handwritten document found stuffed in Aretha Franklin

Franklin did not leave behind a formal, typewritten will when she died five years ago at age 76.

There are differences between the 2010 and 2014 versions although they both appear to indicate that Franklin’s four sons would share income from music and copyrights.

Under the 2014 will, Kecalf and grandchildren would get his mother’s main home in Bloomfield Hills – valued at $1.1 million when she died but which is worth much more today.

The 2010 will, however, said Kecalf and Edward ‘must take business classes and get a certificate or a degree’ to benefit from the estate – a provision that was not in the 2014 version.

Ted, who played guitar with Franklin, testified against the 2014 will, and said his mother would typically get important documents done ‘conventionally and legally’ with the assistance of an attorney.

Handwritten document found stuffed in Aretha Franklin

Franklin was a global star for decades, known especially for hits like ‘Think,’ ‘I Say a Little Prayer’ and ‘Respect.’

The unusual trial – to determine which of the two handwritten wills is hoped to be a guide on how Franklin’s estate will be handled – started on July 3.

Pat Simasko, who specializes in wills and estates and teaches elder law at Michigan State University College of Law, said he’s not surprised that the will was left unsettled.

‘Does it surprise me that someone passed away before they had their ducks in a row? The answer is never,’ he said.

‘This can be settled any time, on the steps, halfway through trial and hopefully it will be. Going to a jury trial is a war.’

It was immediately known that Franklin had died without a will, which meant her four sons likely would share assets worth millions, including real estate in suburban Detroit, furs, gowns, jewelry, and future royalties from her works.

Handwritten document found stuffed in Aretha Franklin

A niece, Sabrina Owens, agreed to be personal representative or executor.

‘My advice? Go slow, be careful, and be smart,’ Franklin’s friend, businessman Ron Moten, told her sons at the funeral.

Months later, in spring 2019, the estate was turned upside down.  Owens reported that a handwritten will dated 2010 was found in a cabinet and another handwritten will, dated 2014, was discovered inside a notebook under cushions in a couch at Franklin’s home.

Handwritten document found stuffed in Aretha Franklin

The eldest son, Clarence, according to court papers has been diagnosed with a mental illness and lives with assistance in a group home outside of Detroit.

In one of her wills, his mother instructed her other sons to check in on Clarence weekly and ‘oversee his needs’. In this 2014 will, he is not even listed as a beneficiary.

Handwritten document found stuffed in Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin wrote in 2014 that her gowns could be auctioned or go to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington.

She indicated in both papers that oldest son, Clarence, who lives under a guardianship, must be regularly supported.

‘Two inconsistent wills cannot both be admitted to probate. In such cases the most recent will revokes the previous will,’ Charles McKelvie, a lawyer for Kecalf Franklin, said in a court filing in favor of the 2014 document.

But White’s attorney, Kurt Olson, said the 2010 will was notarized and signed, while the later version ‘is merely a draft.’

‘If this document were intended to be a will there would have been more care than putting it in a spiral notebook under a couch cushion,’ Olson said.

Simasko, the law instructor, said final wishes can be fulfilled in Michigan through an informal will.

‘If you’re sitting there on a Sunday afternoon and you start handwriting your own wishes, the law allows it as long as the rules are followed: It’s in your handwriting, it’s dated and it’s signed,’ he said.

For five years, Franklin’s estate has been handled at different times by three executors. Owens quit in 2020, citing a ‘rift’ among the sons.

She was succeeded by Reginald Turner, a local lawyer who also served as president of the American Bar Association.

His last accounting in March showed the estate had income of $3.9 million during the previous 12-month period and a similar amount of spending, including more than $900,000 in legal fees to various firms.

Overall assets were pegged at $4.1 million, mostly cash and real estate, though Franklin’s creative works and intellectual property were undervalued with just a nominal $1 figure.

The estate since 2020 has paid at least $8.1 million to the Internal Revenue Service, which had a claim for taxes after the singer’s death, court filings show.

‘The IRS claims took priority. The estate wasn’t going anywhere until the IRS got paid off,’ Smith said.

Franklin passed away at 9.50am on Aug 16 2018 – surrounded by family and friends at her home in Detroit following a battle with advanced pancreatic cancer.

‘In one of the darkest moments of our lives, we are not able to find the appropriate words to express the pain in our heart. We have lost the matriarch and rock of our family,’ a statement from her family read at the time.

‘We have been deeply touched by the incredible outpouring of love and support we have received from close friends, supporters, and fans all around the world. Thank you for your compassion and prayers.

‘We have felt your love for Aretha and it brings us comfort to know that her legacy will live on. As we grieve, we ask that you respect our privacy during this difficult time.’

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