Aretha Franklin, the war between the children ends: «The will of the sofa is valid»

By Chicago 4 Min Read

«R -respectfind out what it means to me,” he sang Aretha Franklin. Unlikely that the definition included a unfortunate family cause who just pitted against his own in a Michigan court children.

The Queen of Soul, giantess of twentieth-century music and the struggle for black civil rights, died in August 2018 and initially it was thought that he had left no will. Therefore, under Michigan law, his assets would have been divided evenly among the four children: Kecalf, Edward, Clarence, and Teddy. That in that moment of fleeting unanimity they jointly chose a cousin — Sabrina Owens — as executor of the will.

In May 2019 though two documents—both handwritten—were found by Owens in Franklin’s home near Detroit.

One, from 2010, in a locked cabinet.
The other, dated 2014, on a large notebook stuck between the sofa cushions.

Two wills with different provisions: three of the four children immediately split, and ended up in court: the trial ended the day before yesterday (Franklin’s oldest son, Clarence, lives in an assisted living facility for people with disabilities and has remained silent in the dispute: the lawyer of his legal guardian had told the BBC that he had “reached an agreement which grants Clarence a percentage of the estate, regardless of the outcome of the case”).

The 2010 will specified the amount of weekly and monthly allowances owed to each of Franklin’s four children, and also stipulated that Kecalf and Edward “must take business classes and get a diploma or degree” in order to collect their inheritance.

In the 2014 will, however, three of Franklin’s children — all except Clarence — would receive equal shares of the mother’s music royalties, but Kecalf (and his children) would receive a larger share of Franklin’s personal possessions, i.e. jewelry, automobiles, musical instruments and numerous memorabilia from his very long career. According to the document, Kecalf’s maternal mansion in Bloomfield Hills worth $1.1 million (at the time of his death, it is now worth much more), and the singer’s cars (a Mercedes, two Cadillacs and a Thunderbird). Inevitably, Kecalf and Edward considered the latter document valid, arguing that it more precisely represented the last wishes of the artist, and therefore revoked the validity of the previous one. Teddy, who played guitar for a long time in his mother’s band, supported the validity of the 2010 will: yes, older but objectively longer (twelve pages), much more detailed, and with Franklin’s signature on each page which is instead missing on the most recent will that surfaced from the sofa (the somewhat adventurous methods of the discovery are not surprising: Franklin was an absolute artist but a careless administrator, in fact with the inheritance it also left several tens of millions of dollars in arrears with the tax authorities).

The jury, composed of six people, according to the precise indications of the judge, had to decide only if the most recent will was authentic, and therefore valid, regardless of all the other elements of the question. After just one hour of deliberation, the jury decided that it is indeed genuine.

What would the great Aretha have said? In a letter filed in court upon resigning as executor of the will, Owens wrote: “In light of my Aunt Aretha’s love of family and desire for privacy I say that he didn’t want to see all this».

July 12, 2023 (change July 12, 2023 | 22:25)

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