The Battle Over Aretha Franklin’s Estate: Handwritten Wills Surface


In August 2018, the world mourned the loss of legendary singer Aretha Franklin, known as the Queen of Soul. However, her death revealed a surprising twist in the form of handwritten Wills discovered at her suburban Detroit home in Michigan.

Now, a jury is tasked with determining which of the two documents will be recognised as her valid last testament. This article delves into the ongoing trial and the implications it holds for Franklin’s multi-million-dollar estate.

The Unexpected Discovery

When Aretha Franklin passed away from pancreatic cancer, it was initially believed that she had not left behind a Will for her substantial estate. However, several months later, handwritten Wills were found in unexpected places within her home. One document dated June 2010 was discovered inside a locked cabinet, while another Will from March 2014 was located in a spiral notebook under a sofa cushion. The trial, which commenced this month, centres around determining the validity of these Wills.

The Battle Begins

The trial occurred at the Oakland County Probate Court and was anticipated to conclude within a week. The six-person jury Will heard testimony from witnesses, including Aretha Franklin’s children, niece Sabrina Owens, and a handwriting expert.

Despite the differing Wills, both versions ensure that Franklin’s sons will share revenue from her music and copyrights. However, the handwriting of both documents presents challenges, with scratched-out words and notes in the margins, making them potentially inadmissible in other states. Michigan law, however, allows for handwritten Wills if they meet specific criteria.

The Dueling Wills

One of Franklin’s sons argued that the notarised 2010 document, listing him and the niece as co-executors, should be considered the valid Will. This version also stipulates that two of Franklin’s sons must pursue business education to benefit from the estate. On the other hand, two other sons claim that the 2014 Will, in which one son replaces the other as a co-executor, is the primary Will. This document also includes provisions for inheriting a valuable mansion and auctioning or donating Franklin’s gowns. The eldest child, Clarence Franklin, is not involved in the dispute due to his legal guardianship.

The Verdict

The Michigan jury determined within just two days that the 2014 document found in Aretha Franklin’s couch after her death is the valid Will to her multi-million dollar estate.

The verdict ends almost five years of family arguments and disputes and will have cost the participants tens of thousands of dollars. As well as the financial costs, the case placed an immeasurable strain on the family members, with Attorneys for two of Franklin’s sons having asserted their half-brother Ted White “wants to disinherit” them.

It Could Have Been Avoided

The trial highlights the complexities and challenges of estate planning, even for individuals of great wealth and fame. Aretha Franklin’s substantial fortune, estimated at $80 million at the time of her passing, has been diminished by unpaid taxes and revised valuations. The trial aimed to resolve the distribution of her assets, valued at just under $6 million.

It is so sad to think that this mess could have been avoided with the right Estate Planning. The death of a loved one can have a huge financial and emotional impact on those left behind, yet less than 50% of UK adults have a Will in place, let alone any real Estate Planning.

Redwood is one of the South’s leading Pensions, Investments, Wills, Trusts & Estate Planning providers, and we are dedicated to helping families to grow, protect and enjoy their wealth. We can advise on any situation with our unrivalled knowledge of Estate Planning and Probate.

Join our Free Public Information Webinar, Wills, Trusts & Estate Planning to find out more, or book a Complimentary Will Review Meeting and let our experts check if your estate has all the protection it needs.

Jasmine Lambert Chartered Financial Planner
Jasmine Lambert

Jasmine is the Managing Director and a Chartered Senior Financial Planner at Redwood Financial. She helps clients manage and grow their wealth and protect their estate. Jasmine also provides expert advice in our FREE Redwood Webinars, where you can learn more about Wills, Trusts and Estate Planning.

Redwood Financial is one of the south’s leading Investments, Pensions, Wills, Trusts & Estate Planning providers and we are dedicated to helping families to grow, protect and enjoy their wealth. With our unrivalled knowledge of Estate Planning, Lasting Powers of Attorney, Probate, Pensions, Savings & Investments, we can advise on any situation.
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