A document handwritten by singer Aretha Franklin and found in her couch after her 2018 death is a valid Michigan will, a jury said Tuesday, a critical turn in a dispute that has turned her sons against each other.
It’s a victory for Kecalf Franklin and Edward Franklin, whose lawyers had argued that papers dated 2014 should override a 2010 will that was discovered around the same time in a locked cabinet at the Queen of Soul’s home in suburban Detroit.
The jury deliberated less than an hour after a brief trial that started Monday. After the verdict was read, Aretha Franklin’s grandchildren stepped forward from the first row to hug Kecalf and Edward.
“I’m very, very happy. I just wanted my mother’s wishes to be adhered to,” Kecalf Franklin said. “We just want to exhale right now. It’s been a long five years for my family, my children.”
Aretha Franklin did not leave behind a formal, typewritten will when she died five years ago at age 76. But both documents, with scribbles and hard-to-decipher passages, suddenly emerged in 2019 when a niece scoured the home for records.
In closing arguments, lawyers for two of Franklin’s sons said there’s nothing legally significant about finding the handwritten papers in a notebook in her couch. It’s “inconsequential. … You can take your will and leave it on the kitchen counter. It’s still your will,” Charles McKelvie said before the jury began deliberations.
Kecalf and Edward have teamed up against brother Ted White II, who favoured the 2010 will. White’s attorney, Kurt Olson, noted the 2010 will was under lock and key. He said it’s much more significant than papers found in a couch.
Franklin’s estate managers have been paying bills, settling millions in tax debts and generating income through music royalties and other intellectual property.
The will dispute, however, has been unfinished business. There are differences between the 2010 and 2014 versions, though they both appear to indicate that Franklin’s four sons would share income from music and copyrights.
But under the 2014 will, Kecalf Franklin and grandchildren would get his mother’s main home in Bloomfield Hills, which was valued at $1.1 million US when she died but is worth much more today. The older will said Kecalf, 53, and Edward Franklin, 64, “must take business classes and get a certificate or a degree” to benefit from the estate. That provision is not in the 2014 version.
White, who played guitar with Aretha Franklin, testified against the 2014 will, saying his mother typically would get important documents done “conventionally and legally” and with assistance from an attorney.
Franklin was a global star for decades, known especially for hits like Think, I Say a Little Prayer and Respect.