Aretha Franklin: Jury decides 2014 document found in singer’s couch is valid will

PONTIAC, Mich. — A Michigan jury on Tuesday decided that a four-page document written by legendary singer Aretha Franklin -- found in a couch cushion at her home months after her death in 2018 -- is a valid will.

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The decision capped more than four years of squabbling between three of the sons of the “Queen of Soul,” who died on Aug. 16, 2018. One step remains, as Judge Jennifer Callaghan now has two wills to consider: the four-page 2014 document and an 11-page 2010 document, already agreed by Franklin’s sons to be a valid will, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The six-person jury in Oakland County Probate Court decided after a two-day trial that the handwritten will, penned in 2014, was a valid one, the newspaper reported. The older document -- also handwritten -- was found at around the same time in a locked cabinet at Franklin’s home, according to The New York Times.

The jury’s decision in the two-day trial is a victory for Kecalf Franklin and Edward Franklin, who were pitted against another sibling, Ted White II, who favored the 2010 document, the newspaper reported.

Kecalf Franklin stands to benefit in a large way, including taking sole ownership of his mother’s multimillion-dollar home in Bloomfield Hills home, according to the Free Press.

“I think that she would be very happy, and she’s proud right now that her wishes have been approved,” Kecalf Franklin told reporters outside the courtroom.

After Franklin died, her estate was valued at $18 million, the Times reported.

After the singer’s death at the age of 76, her family believed that there was no will. Under Michigan law, Aretha Franklin’s assets would have been equally divided among her four sons -- Kecalf, Edward and Clarence Franklin and Ted White II -- the Times reported.

The siblings unanimously chose a cousin as a defacto executor, according to the newspaper. But in May 2019, the two documents, which were not prepared by attorneys, were discovered, the Times reported. The older one was in a locked cabinet, while the 2014 paper was in a spiral notebook found under a couch cushion.

That not only divided Aretha Franklin’s sons, it also raised questions about how music royalties and other income from her estate, including the singer’s furs, jewelry and musical instruments, would be handed out, according to the newspaper.

Attorneys for brothers favoring the 2014 document focused on their mother’s signature on the paper -- “A. Franklin,” with a smiley face, the Free Press reported.

Jurors heard closing arguments from attorneys Tuesday following Monday testimony that focused in part on the Queen of Soul’s signature – “A. Franklin” with a smiley face – toward the bottom of the 2014 papers.

White’s attorney did not dispute the authenticity of the signature in the 2014 will, but rather where it was placed on the page, according to the newspaper. He asserted that the signature was a reference to some notes in the text of the document.

“That argument doesn’t hold water,” said Charlie McKelvie, the attorney for Kecalf Franklin. “You don’t sign off on provisions, you sign off on the document.”

McKelvie and Craig Smith, an attorney for Edward Franklin, also noted that the 2014 document’s opening line from Aretha Franklin read, “Being of sound mind, I write my will & testimony.”

“She’s speaking from the grave, folks: ‘This is my will,’” Smith told the jury.

Under the 2014 will, Aretha Franklin’s music royalties will be split evenly among Kecalf and Edward Franklin and Ted White II, the Free Press reported.

“They’ll be playing ‘Respect’ 300 years from now,” Smith said.

Clarence Franklin, the singer’s oldest son, has a long-term disability and resides in an assisted-living home, according to the newspaper. He was not a party in the trial; his siblings had already reached an agreement to support him, the Free Press reported.

White held his wife’s hand during the trial, the Times reported. He said the brothers were formal during the trial but still talk outside of the court.

“We’re as close as three old men can be,” White told a reporter inside the courtroom on Monday, the Times reported.

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