A Michigan jury reportedly ruled Tuesday that a handwritten will found among sofa cushions at Aretha Franklin’s home after her death in 2018 is valid.
The soul music legend had left two wills scrawled in notebooks and on scraps of paper found at her Detroit home after she died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 76 for more than $80 million, prompting uproar among Franklin’s children . A legal battle boiled down to a brief trial at an Oakland County courthouse that began Monday and ended with a jury decision Tuesday.
After less than an hour of deliberation, the jury settled on the will, which was written in 2014 and found on Franklin’s couch months after her death The Associated Press. Franklin’s niece, Sabrina Owens, and Franklin’s son, Kecalf Franklin, are named joint administrators of the estate. The will also states that Kecalf Franklin and his children, Aretha Franklin’s only grandchildren, will inherit his mother’s main home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, which was valued at $1.1 million at her death but is worth much more today is.
The older will, dated 2010, found in a cupboard in Franklin’s home, lists one of her other sons, Theodore White, and niece Owens as co-administrators of the estate. It also states that Kecalf Franklin and her fourth son, Edward Franklin, “must take business courses and earn a certificate or degree” to benefit from the estate.
The 2014 will, which was enforced in court, makes no mention of such requirements for Kecalf and Edward.
“I’m very, very happy. I just wanted my mother’s wishes to be met,” Kecalf Franklin told the AP. “We just want to breathe out now. It’s been a long five years for my family, my kids.”
When the “Respect” singer died five years ago, family members were convinced that she had left no will to dictate how her estate should be administered. Franklin’s four children expected to divide their fortune equally Michigan law when a person dies without a will or spouse.
However, in 2019, Owens searched Franklin’s home and found the two handwritten wills, which were riddled with scrawls and passages difficult to decipher. While both wills agreed that their sons would share the proceeds of their mother’s estate, such as ongoing earnings from her recordings, they disagreed over who should serve as executor and pitted their children against each other.
Owens acted as executor immediately after the “Chain of Fools” singer’s death. She quit in 2020 to “settle the rift in my family.” Detroit FreePress reported.
Since then, Franklin’s executors have paid bills, settled millions of dollars in taxes owed to the Internal Revenue Service, and generated revenue from music licenses and other intellectual property. However, the will remained controversial within the family.
Leading up to the trial, Kurt Olson, an attorney for White, defended the 2010 will. Tell the AP that the document was notarized and signed, while the later version was “only 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.
In their closing arguments at the trial, attorneys for Kecalf and Edward Franklin said the fact that the 2014 papers were found in sofa cushions doesn’t make them any less significant, according to the AP.
“You can take your will and leave it on the kitchen counter. It’s still your will,” attorney Charles McKelvie told the jury.
Another attorney, Craig Smith, pointed to the first line of the 2014 document, which was posted on four large placards in front of the jury.
“Say right here, ‘This is my will.’ She’s speaking from the grave, folks,” Smith said.