Jul 06, 2023 10:53 am
Singer Aretha Franklin looks up while seated on stage during HarvardUniversity commencement ceremonies, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, whereshe was presented with an honorary Doctor of Arts degree. Franklin hassome harsh words for a New York server at a at a Johnny Rocketsrestaurant in Lewiston near Buffalo. (Photo:AP)
PONTIAC, Michigan (AP) — Five years after her death, the final wishes of music superstar Aretha Franklin are still unsettled. An unusual trial begins next Monday to determine which of two handwritten wills, including one found in couch cushions, will guide how her estate is handled.
The Queen of Soul, who had four sons, did not have a formal, typewritten will in place, despite years of health problems and efforts to get one done. But under Michigan law, it’s still possible to treat other documents — with scribbles, scratch-outs and hard-to-read passages — as her commands.
The dispute is pitting a son against other sons. Ted White II believes papers dated in 2010 should mainly control the estate, while Kecalf Franklin and Edward Franklin favour a 2014 document. Both were discovered in Franklin’s suburban Detroit home, months after her death from pancreatic cancer in 2018 at age 76.
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“Does it surprise me that someone passed away before they had their ducks in a row? The answer is never,” said Pat Simasko, who specializes in wills and estates and teaches elder law at Michigan State University College of Law.
“This can be settled any time, on the steps, halfway through trial,” he said. “And hopefully it will be. Going to a jury trial is a war.”
Franklin was a global star for decades, known especially for hits like “Think,” “I Say a Little Prayer” and “Respect.” She was treated like royalty in death, her body transported in a 1940 Cadillac hearse to a Detroit museum where thousands of people visited in August 2018.
It was immediately known that Franklin had died without a will, which meant her four sons likely would share assets worth millions, including real estate in suburban Detroit, furs, gowns, jewelry and future royalties from her works. A niece, Sabrina Owens, agreed to be personal representative or executor.