Handwritten document found in Aretha Franklin’s sofa is singer's valid will, jury rules

11 July 2023, 22:21

Two of Aretha Franklin's attended court to try and settle a dispute about the late singer's will.
Two of Aretha Franklin's attended court to try and settle a dispute about the late singer's will. Picture: Alamy

By Danielle DeWolfe

A handwritten document discovered in Aretha Fanklin's sofa has been deemed a valid will by a Michigan jury.

Two of Aretha Franklin’s sons attended a hearing in the US on Tuesday amid an ongoing inheritance battle linked to their late mother’s estate.

Aretha died, aged 76, in 2018 of pancreatic cancer without a formal, typewritten will.

As part of the two-day trial, attorneys for two of Franklin's sons claimed their half-brother, Ted White, wanted to "disinherit" them.

Now, six jurors in the Michigan city of Pontiac have determined the latest document discovered qualifies as the most recent valid will - an argument supported by Franklin's two sons Kecalf and Edward.

A handwritten document dating back to 2010, which was left in a locked cabinet, was originally recognised as the the late singer’s formal will after her death.

But more recently, a second set of handwritten papers were found on a spiral notepad beneath sofa cushions at the Queen of Soul’s home by her niece in 2019.

Kecalf Franklin has argued in favour of the 2014 document.
Kecalf Franklin has argued in favour of the 2014 document. Picture: Alamy

Driving a wedge between two of the singer’s sons, the notes fuelled an ongoing dispute about which version should be accepted.

Ted White II, 60, believes the original 2010 version should be recognised as his mother’s official will, whereas Kecalf Franklin, 53, believes it should be the 2014 version.

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“With all the time I spent working with her administratively... every other document that she ever signed was something that was done conventionally and legally” and with assistance from a lawyer, Mr White told the jury.

Although he did acknowledge that the 2014 letter was still written by his mother.

Mr White’s lawyer told court that the 2010 document had been signed on all 11 pages - whereas the 2014 document had only be signed once.

Both documents seem to instruct that the singer’s four sons should share income from the music and copyrights of her work.

But it’s the matter of who inherits her million-dollar estate that's creating a rift between the two sons.

Ted White II favours the 2010 document.
Ted White II favours the 2010 document. Picture: Alamy

The 2014 version was shown on four large posters in court and it showed Mr White’s name crossed out as executor of the estate, with Kecalf Franklin named in his place.

If the 2014 document was assumed as the late singer’s will, Mr Franklin and his grandchildren would inherit his mother’s main home in Bloomfield Hills, valued at $1.1mil in 2018 when she died, but now estimated to be worth up to $18mil.

Mr Franklin argued that his mother often handled mail, documents and even slept on the sofa where the 2014 will was found.

He said “it doesn’t strike me as odd” that documents were found on his mother’s sofa.

A testimony from the legendary singer’s niece, Sabrina Owens, who formerly managed her aunt’s estate was also read out in trial.

"She would use the kitchen and living room - that was about it," Ms Owens said.

"So when I got to the sofa, I lifted up that far right cushion and there was three notebooks there."

Jurors were told their only task was to decide if the 2014 document should be assumed as a valid will.

Closing arguments are expected to be delivered on Tuesday.

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