Judge awards real estate to Aretha Franklin’s sons, citing handwritten will found in couch

Aretha Franklin

PONTIAC, Mich. — A judge overseeing the estate of the late singer Aretha Franklin on Monday awarded real estate to the sons of the “Queen of Soul,” citing a handwritten will from 2014 that was discovered between couch cushions.

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The decision comes four months after an Oakland County Probate Court jury decided that the four-page document was valid under Michigan law despite being hard to read, Rolling Stone reported. The will, signed with the letter “A” and a smiley face, overrides a will from 2010 that was found at Franklin’s suburban Detroit home in 2019, according to the website.

Franklin died of pancreatic cancer in 2018. She was 76. At the time of her death, the singer’s estate was valued at $18 million, The New York Times reported. She did not have a formal will, triggering a legal battle between three of her four sons.

“Aretha didn’t expect that there would be five years of litigation between her four boys over which of those wills hanging out there was the right one,” estate planning attorney Mark Frankel told WJBK-TV. “And had she, in 2014, managed to get to counsel and have that drafted, it would have been clearer as to what was going on and there wouldn’t have been all these issues.”

Oakland County Jennifer Callaghan’s ruling was a victory for Franklin’s youngest son, Kecalf, who had claimed the 2014 document was the singer’s valid will, Rolling Stone reported.

Kecalf Franklin had the support of his brother, the singer’s second-eldest son, Edward Franklin, according to the website. The 2014 will was opposed by Franklin’s third son, Ted White II, as well as the guardian of her eldest son, Clarence, who has special needs.

Kecalf Franklin will receive his mother’s suburban Detroit home, which was valued at $1.1 million five years ago but is worth more now, The Associated Press reported.

A lawyer described the residence as the “crown jewel” before July’s trial.

Ted White will receive the proceeds from one of Franklin’s houses in Detroit, which sold for $300,000 before the battle of the wills.

“Teddy is requesting the sale proceeds,” Charles McKelvie, an attorney for Kecalf Franklin, said Tuesday, according to WJBK. Edward Franklin was awarded another property, the television station reported.

All other assets will be divided among Franklin’s family by the estate’s conservator.

All four sons will also split royalties from Franklin’s music and copyrights, according to the television station. A status conference with the judge is set for January, the AP reported.

Frankel told WJBK that much of the legal wrangling and drama could have been avoided had the proper documents been prepared from the start.

“Despite the cost, it can be really very helpful to have someone who is a professional and is trained to do this -- help to make sure that your wishes are fulfilled,” he told the television station.

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