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  • Writer's pictureKelly A. Burgy

Estate Planning Lessons Learned from Aretha Franklin’s Will Battle

Legendary singer and the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin passed away in 2018. Last month, a jury deliberated and decided that a 2014 document handwritten by Aretha Franklin is a valid Michigan Will.

Aretha Franklin’s sons have been battling over the handwritten wills for the past 5 years. The Queen of Soul had four sons. Despite the fame and fortune and years of health problems, Aretha Franklin did not have a formal, typed Will in place. After she passed from pancreatic cancer in 2018 at age 76, her Estate was originally opened under the assumption that she did not have a Will.

Months later, two Wills were discovered. One of her sons, Ted White II believed that some papers dated in 2010 should control the Estate, while her other sons Kecalf Franklin and Edward Franklin favored the 2014 document. Both were discovered in Franklin’s home in Detroit. The 2010 Will was reportedly found in a cabinet and the 2014 Will was discovered inside a notebook under cushions.

Both documents appear to indicate that the sons would share income from music and copyrights, but the battle arises over other differences between the documents. The 2010 Will lists White and her niece, Sabrina Owens, as co-executors and says that Kecalf and Edward Franklin “must take business classes and get a certificate or a degree” to benefit from the Estate. The 2014 version crosses out White’s name as executor and lists Kecalf Franklin in his place. There is no mention of business classes. Other differences exist that the family was fighting over.

Two inconsistent Wills cannot both be admitted to probate. In such cases, the most recent Will revokes the previous Will. But, the 2010 Will was notarized and signed, and the 2014 version was only signed by Aretha Franklin with a smiley face in the letter ‘A’.

There still will be discussions over whether some provisions of the 2010 Will should be fulfilled and whether Kecalf Franklin could become executor of the Estate. So, 5 years into the legal battle, it is still ongoing.

Overall, Estate assets were estimated at $4.1 million, though Aretha Franklin’s creative works and intellectual property were undervalued with just a $1 nominal figure. The Estate since 2020 has paid at least $8.1 million to the Internal Revenue Service, which had a claim for taxes after the singer’s death. And the family has undoubtedly spent an exorbitant amount of money in legal fees to sustain the legal battle over the valid Will.

Aretha Franklin’s Estate highlights the dangers of improper estate planning. You should make sure that your Will meets all the testamentary requirements and that it clearly states your wishes. Also, it never hurts to get professional advice. Feel free to give us a call or contact us through our website to schedule a free consultation to discuss your estate plan with our experienced attorneys.


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