Aretha Franklin Handwritten Will Is Legitimate, Jury Finds Following Years-Long Estate Battle

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aretha franklin
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Aretha Franklin ahead of a 2015 performance at the White House. Photo Credit: Pete Souza

Nearly five years after the passing of Aretha Franklin, a Michigan jury has officially determined that a handwritten 2014 will left behind by the Queen of Soul is in fact legitimate.

This high-profile development in the half-decade-long legal battle between Franklin’s children just recently came to light in reports from regional outlets as well as the Associated Press. For background, Franklin’s niece Sabrina Garrett-Owens was named personal representative of the “Respect” vocalist’s estate in 2018.

And before stepping down from the position in early 2020, Garrett-Owens found three handwritten wills: one dated June of 2010, another dated October of 2010, and a third dated March of 2014. The former two documents had been locked away in a cabinet, according to court filings, whereas the latter had been stored “underneath the cushions of the couch in the living room.”

As the marathon courtroom confrontation unfolded, Kecalf Franklin and Edward Franklin made clear their belief that the 2014 “holographic” will was valid, whereas another of Franklin’s four children, Ted White Jr., came out in favor of the 2010 wills. (Clarence Franklin, Aretha’s last son, reportedly has special needs, lives under a guardianship, and, per each of the wills, must be provided for with capital from the sizable estate.)

Regarding the key differences between the older pair of wills and that dated 2014 – as well as the reasons behind the dispute – the 2010 documents would have required Edward and Kecalf to “take business classes and get a certificate or a degree” in order to receive their inheritances, according to the AP’s transcription of the difficult-to-read text.

Also under the 2014 will – which is in any event expected to afford all four sons income from Aretha’s music – Kecalf and the “Think” singer’s grandchildren are reportedly expected to inherit a multimillion-dollar Bloomfield Hills home.

The jury reportedly took less than an hour to render its verdict, and next, both sides are set to discuss whether certain provisions of the 2010 wills should be fulfilled and whether Kecalf should become executor of the estate.

“We won. Sweet justice. Sweet justice. For my mom,” Kecalf told local media outside the courtroom following the jury determination, proceeding to refute the idea that he’d been fighting with Ted.

“Well, my brother, he wanted everything to be split up evenly – which is what I wanted as well, before I understood that there was a will, a 2014 will. And once I understood that, then I just wanted my mom’s last wishes to be adhered to, that’s it.”

In a different media discussion at the courthouse, Kecalf indicated that he was “just trying to wrap everything up” and touched upon longer-term plans to develop his mother’s brand, including by releasing merch lines.