Saturday, April 20, 2024

Aretha Franklin’s sons contesting wills

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When Aretha Franklin died from pancreatic cancer in August 2018, it was thought that she had left behind no will for an estate worth millions.

But months later, handwritten wills were found in a cabinet and under a sofa cushion at her home in suburban Detroit, Michigan.

A jury will now determine which of two documents should be ruled as the Queen of Soul’s valid last testament.

The trial began on Monday and is expected to last less than a week.

A six-person jury at the Oakland County Probate Court will hear from witnesses, including the Franklin children, her niece Sabrina Owens and a handwriting expert.

An 18-time Grammy Award winner, Franklin recorded dozens of chart-topping songs and was the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

But the singer known for hits like Think, I Say a Little Prayer and Respect was intensely private about her finances and is said to have resisted preparing a formal will despite years of ill health.

When she died at age 76 the absence of a will meant her assets – including homes, cars, furs and jewellery – were to be equally split among her four sons.

But nine months on from her death, wills were discovered at her home.

One son is arguing that the papers dated June 2010 and found inside a locked cabinet are the real will.

Two other sons say a will dated March 2014 and found in a spiral notebook under sofa cushions should take precedence.

On Monday, Judge Jennifer Callaghan told jurors the only decision they had to make was whether the 2014 document can be accepted as a valid will.

Despite their differences, both documents would see the sons share revenue from Franklin’s music and copyrights.

Clarence Franklin, the eldest child, is not involved in the dispute. He lives in an assisted living facility in Michigan and is under a legal guardianship.

A lawyer for his guardian told the BBC they will not participate in the trial and “have reached a settlement that gives Clarence a percentage of the estate without regard to the outcome of the will contest”.

The family rift had earlier driven Owens to quit as representative of her aunt’s estate.

“Given my aunt’s love of family and desire for privacy, this is not what she would have wanted for us, nor is it what I want,” she wrote in a 2020 court filing.

“I love my cousins, hold no animosity towards them, and wish them the best.” (BBC)

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