A Michigan jury ruled Tuesday that a 2014 document found in Aretha Franklin’s couch after her death is her true will, ending her family’s legal battle over her estimated $6 million estate. The singer’s sons have been fighting over two handwritten documents of her will for some time now. Lawyers for two sons of the late singer said their half-brother brother Ted White is doing everything he can to “disinherit” them.
Franklin did not leave behind a formal, typewritten will when she died in 2018 at the age of 76. Her niece Sabrina Owens, who was the singer’s estate’s executor, found two handwritten documents at the singer’s home in Detroit nine months after her death.
One of the two handwritten documents, which was dated June 2010, was found inside a locked desk drawer while the other dated March 2014 was found in her couch, where one of her sons Kecalf Franklin argued that the Queen of Soul usually conducted business. There are differences between the 2010 and 2014 versions over what the singer’s children will inherit.
In the 2014 will ruled valid on Tuesday, three sons would evenly split the singer’s music royalties and bank funds while the youngest child Kecalf and his grandchildren would inherit Franklin’s main home in Bloomfield Hills, which was last valued at $1.1 million, BBC reported. Kecalf is also named as executor.
But the 2010 document states that Kecalf and another son Edward “must take business classes and get a certificate or a degree” in order to benefit from the singer’s estate. The 2010 version has Ted as the executor.
Ted, who was his mother’s touring guitarist, testified against the 2014 will, telling the court that his mother Franklin would have written a will “conventionally and legally” rather than by “freehand”. According to his attorney Kurt Olson, the 2010 will was under lock and key in the house instead of being under the cushions. “They’re trying to make Ted a bad guy,” Olson said.
The jury gave its verdict after less than an hour of deliberating in the brief trial that started Monday. It was a win for Kecalf and his brother Edward, who had argued that the paper dated 2014 should override the 2010 document.
“I’m very, very happy. I just wanted my mother’s wishes to be adhered to,” Kecalf said. “We just want to exhale right now. It’s been a long five years for my family, my children.”
In surveys cited by BBC, over 70% of Blacks in America do not have wills partly because they do not trust the legal system.
Franklin passed away on August 16, 2018, at her home in Detroit after a lengthy illness. She succumbed to her battle with pancreatic cancer surrounded by her family and friends. Franklin started her singing career in 1956 when she recorded her earliest tracks. Regarded as a child prodigy, she was a self-taught musician lauded for her booming and unique voice.
Her highly successful career spanning several decades saw her bag several awards and honors, including receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, receiving several Grammy Awards, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, ranking first on Rolling Stone’s list of Greatest Singers of All Time, and being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (she became the first woman in history to achieve such a feat).
Below are the singer’s two handwritten wills that turned her children against each other. The first two are the 2010 handwritten will while the last two are the 2014 handwritten will.