Aretha Franklin had a habit of throwing her purse on the piano before beginning a performance and always caused a stir. The gesture was certainly part stagecraft, a bit of Queen of Soul regal nonchalance, but it was also a sign of what many who knew her called her keen attention to dollars and cents.
Franklin, like many black artists performing during the Jim Crow era, required an upfront cash payment before taking the stage.
“Aretha put her reading glasses on and was there while they counted,” Empire Entertainment’s JB Miller told once billboard. “The purse would always make it onto the stage.”
Aretha Franklin “The Queen of Soul” has died at the age of 76
Now, after Franklin’s death in 2018, asking about her money has become far more complicated than counting off the hundreds behind the scenes. Her four sons have been fighting in a Michigan court for years over what to do with their substantial estate, which is estimated to be worth up to $18 million.
The dispute has divided her descendants and, a judge ruled Monday, will depend on how an Oakland County jury answers a simple, puzzling question: which of the two documents was found after Franklin’s death, one under a sofa cushion and one in a locked one room cabinet, contain their legitimate last wishes?
When Franklin died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 76, it was originally believed that she had no will, so her assets – including four houses, several cars, a glamorous wardrobe full of jewelry and furs, and the rights to her iconic music catalog – would remain to be divided between their sons Clarence, Edward, Ted White and Kecalf Cunningham.
But in 2019, the discovery of two documents cast even that divide into question.
One document, a handwritten will from 2010, was found locked. The signed and notarized memorandum equally divided Franklin’s copyrights and required her sons to attend business administration courses.
The other, a handwritten memo from 2014 discovered in a spiral notebook under a sofa cushion, gave three of Franklin’s three sons equal shares in their mother’s music licenses while leaving more of their personal property to Mr Cunningham, including two houses and their cars. Written in scrawled handwriting, the paper has notes in the margins and a smiley face next to the word “Franklin” that could look like a signature.
The documents have divided the singer’s children.
Mr White argues that the 2010 document is the legitimate record.
“If this document was intended as a will, it would have been more prudent to put it in a spiral notebook under a sofa cushion,” said his attorney, Kurt A. Olson The New York Times.
Meanwhile, Edward Franklin and Mr Cunningham endorse the 2014 document.
“There is no question that Ms. Franklin intended the 2014 will to be her will,” he said The former’s attorney wrote in court documents. “MS. Franklin wrote right at the beginning of the 2014 Will, ‘For whose business it is and who are in their right mind, I will write my Will and Testimony.’
Aretha’s eldest son Clarence Franklin, who was born when the singer was 12, has a disability and lives under legal guardianship, has reached a separate settlement regarding the estate and will not participate in the litigation.
Adding to the confusion was a series of voice messages from the late soul singer discussing a third will she was preparing with her estate attorney. He said he felt Franklin hadn’t made up his mind yet.
“It is clear to this court,” Jennifer S. Callaghan, the judge presiding over the case, wrote in a May ruling, “that the attorney hired to personally commemorate the deceased’s estate plan did not believe that the deceased had already reached an end.” final, complete plan.”
The dispute isn’t the first problem with Franklin’s finances.
After she died, she left nearly $1 million in uncashed checks, some so old that they had to be reissued. In 2021, her estate settled with the IRS for $8 million in federal income taxes owed, setting aside some new income from music licensing and future projects like Hollywood biopics.
Such disputes are common in probate proceedings, even among those wealthy enough to be able to afford first class legal advice.
A prominent story arc in the HBO Max drama successor depicts a nearly identical scenario in which the children of billionaire mogul Logan Roy argue over the meaning of an ambiguous, handwritten document that appears to have named one of his children as the next CEO of his sprawling financial empire.
Singer Prince left no will and it took more than six years for family members to settle his estate, while the autopsy dispute over James Brown’s finances spanned nearly two decades. vulture Remarks.
“Although a will is an important thing that almost everyone should have, regardless of wealth or celebrity status, making a will means acknowledging and confronting one’s mortality, which is an uncomfortable subject for many,” said Michael Schimel, attorney at Pryor Cashman LLP, the website said. “That means a lot of people are either procrastinating or maybe not going through with it. This can mean that either no will was made from the outset or that an important change is not made later. And of course, life is hectic and preparing or updating an estate plan can fall by the wayside.”
An upcoming trial could include testimony from Franklin’s sons, handwriting experts and Sabrina Owens, a niece of Franklin, who found the documents and resigned as executor in 2020, citing a “rift” between the sons.
When Aretha Franklin ascended her throne as Queen of Soul, it was all about making money. Now that her crown is secured, it will take far more than hard bargaining and a downed wallet to decide where the money will go next.