Jury rules document found in Aretha Franklin’s couch is valid will
Aretha Franklin’s multi-million dollar estate is protected by a 2014 document found in her couch after her death.
A two-day tri pitted the late Queen of Soul’s children against each other over two handwritten versions of her final wishes.
There had been allegations that Franklin’s half-brother Ted White was seeking to disinherit his two sons.
As a result of Tuesday’s verdict, the family has been locked in a legal battle for nearly five years.
Franklin died of pancreatic cancer in August 2018, and it was widely assumed that she had no will to transfer her $6 million (£4.6 million) in real estate, cash, gold records, and furs, or her music rights.
Nine months later, her niece Sabrina Owens, the estate’s executor at the time, discovered two sets of handwritten documents at the singer’s Detroit home.
The June 2010 version was found inside a locked desk drawer along with other contracts and records.
A newer version, dated March 2014, was discovered hidden underneath the cushions of Franklin’s living room sofa.
In less than an hour, six jurors in Pontiac determined whether the latter document qualified as a valid will.
Differences between the two documents over what the soul superstar’s four children would inherit are at the heart of the dispute.
Her will now ruled valid would divide her music royalties and bank funds evenly among three sons, while Kecalf and his grandchildren would inherit her primary residence, a gated mansion valued at $1.2 million.
In contrast, Franklin’s 2010 plan would distribute Franklin’s assets more evenly, but Kecalf and Edward are required to take business classes and earn a certificate or degree to benefit from it.
According to Kecalf and Edward, the newer document revokes the older document, but their half-brother Ted disagrees.
It “doesn’t strike me as odd” that a will had been discovered on the couch, Kecalf testified on the stand.
The notebook’s discovery was deemed “inconsequential” by his lawyer during closing arguments on Tuesday.
Charles McKelvie told me to leave my will on the counter. The will remains yours.”
The lawyer for Edward, Craig Smith, invoked the document’s first line – “To whom it may concern, I write my will and testimony” – to argue that their mother was “speaking from the grave”.
He accused Teddy of disinheriting his two brothers. ‘Teddy wants it all,’ he says.
A woman with a natural gift for soul
The trial was told by Ted, Franklin’s touring guitarist, that the will would have been written “conventionally and legally” rather than freehand.
Rather than being hidden under the cushions, his attorney Kurt Olson pointed out on Tuesday that the will dated 2010 was locked up in the house.
It’s their intention to make Ted look bad,” said Mr Olson.
Clarence, Franklin’s eldest child, who is under guardianship, was not involved in the dispute.
In a pre-trial agreement between his brothers and his guardian, he will receive an undisclosed percentage of the estate.
According to surveys, more than 70% of black Americans do not have wills, partly due to distrust in the US legal system and concerns over property seizures.
Prince and James Brown’s heirs took several years to resolve disputes over their estates.
More recent valuations and several years of unpaid taxes have significantly reduced Franklin’s fortune, which was estimated to be $80m at the time of her death.
Franklin’s personal representative, Nicholas Papasifakis, has previously promised to follow the court’s decision and distribute her assets accordingly.
Following the verdict, Kecalf Franklin said: “I’m very happy. I just wanted my mother’s wishes honored. We just want to exhale right now. It’s been a long five years.”
Even though his brother Ted was not present in the courtroom, he added: “I love my brother deeply.”