When Aretha Franklin died of pancreatic cancer in 2018 at the age of 76, she left behind a genre-defining legacy and an estate of cherished value 80 million dollars.
Franklin was believed to have died intestate, meaning her four sons were expected to divide their fortune equally. But a few months after her death, the family discovered two handwritten wills in their Detroit home — one in a closet and one in a notebook tucked under pillows.
The duelists agree on one point: All four sons will share the profits from their mother’s estate, such as the current income from their recordings. However, the wills contain conflicting information about which family members will control their estate, causing turmoil among Franklin’s children.
Now a jury will decide which will is valid while the case goes to court on Monday, according to court documents reviewed by The Times. Judge Jennifer Callaghan, who has overseen the family’s court battle for the past four years, will preside over the case.
The older will, dated 2010, lists one of her sons, Theodore White, and a niece, Sabrina Owens, as co-executors of the estate. It also states that two of their sons, Kecalf Franklin and Edward Franklin, “must take business courses and earn a certificate or degree” to benefit from the estate.
The other will, dated 2014, also names Owens as executor, but drops White’s name and replaces him with Franklin’s son, Kecalf Franklin. There is no talk of business class. Kecalf Franklin and his grandchildren received his mother’s main home in Bloomfield Hills, which was valued at $1.1 million when she died but is worth much more today.
“It’s the crown jewel,” said Craig Smith, an attorney for Edward Franklin The Associated Press about Aretha Franklin’s home.
Franklin wrote in 2014 that her clothes could be auctioned off or go to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. She pointed out in both papers that her eldest son Clarence, who lives under guardianship, needs regular support.
“Two conflicting wills cannot both be admitted to the probate hearing. In such cases, the most recent will revokes the previous will,” Charles McKelvie, an attorney for Kecalf Franklin, wrote in a court filing in favor of the 2014 document.
But White’s attorney, Kurt Olson, told the AP that the 2010 will was notarized and signed, while the later version was “just a draft.”
“If this document was meant to be a will, one would have had to be more careful than stuffing it in a spiral notebook under a sofa cushion,” Olson said.
Lawyers for Franklin’s sons did not immediately respond to The Times’ request for comment.
In a separate challenge to the estate since Franklin’s death, the Internal Revenue Service had claimed that the soul singer owed nearly $8 million in unpaid taxes. Accordingly, the settlement was able to repay the debt by 2022 Detroit FreePress. Debt had kept Franklin’s children from making profits on their mother’s estate.
Owens, a human resources manager at the University of Michigan, had acted as executor immediately after the “Respect” singer’s death. However, she quit the role in 2020 to “settle the rift in my family.” free press reported.
“My primary goal was to honor my aunt by conducting her business professionally, fairly and within the law,” Owens wrote in her resignation letter. “Despite my best efforts, my role in the estate has become more controversial with the heirs. Given my aunt’s great love for family and desire for privacy, she would not have wanted this for us, nor is it what I want.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.