Wills Discovered in Aretha Franklin's Home Reignite Estate Battle

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, died last August from pancreatic cancer. At the time of her death, it was widely believed she left no will. However, longtime lawyer David Bennett reported that three wills were found in different places inside the singer’s Detroit home in early May.

Two versions of the will, from 2010, were found in a locked cabinet, the BBC reported. A third, dated March 2014, was written in a spiral notebook and discovered under cushions in the living room. The handwritten wills are difficult to read and decipher. If recognized by the courts, the wills could significantly reorganize how Franklin’s estate is administered.

Aretha Franklin’s estate is estimated at $80 million and is currently managed by Franklin’s niece, Sabrina Owens, who also serves as an executor. According to records obtained by The Detroit News, Franklin’s estate owes the IRS $6.3 million in back taxes, but an attorney for the estate reports that $3 million has been paid. The Oakland County Probate Court has appointed an additional executor to address any legal claims and pay debts, separate from Owens’ duties.

In Michigan, estates without a will should be equally divided between heirs — in this case, Franklin’s four sons, Clarence, Edward, Kecalf, and Ted White Jr. This process, however, is not always tidy and is often time-consuming. There is a contentious fight over the Franklin estate brewing behind the scenes, with at least two of the sons embroiled in disputes with the estate, the Associated Press reported. The youngest son, Kecalf, a gospel rapper, has filed a lawsuit requesting appointment as a representative of the estate based on the 2014 will. He also opposes plans to sell a parcel of land next to his mother's Oakland County home for $325,000. Franklin’s eldest son, Edward, filed a motion requesting monthly financial reports be made available to the family. The request has not been granted due to allegations of theft from the Franklin home, and financial disclosures that could negatively impact the property, according to Page Six.

Bennett indicated that the wills were shared with Franklin’s sons or their representatives, two of whom are opposing the wills, according to a family statement cited by Page Six. The attorney filed the wills in an Oakland County probate court on May 20 and told a judge that he wasn't sure whether they were legal under Michigan law. A hearing on the singer’s estate is set for June 12.

About the Author

Stephen G. Hall is a sections editor for The North Star. He is a historian specializing in 19th and 20th century African American and American intellectual, social and cultural history and the African Diaspora. Hall is the author of A Faithful Account of the Race: African American Historical Writing in Nineteenth-Century America. He is working on a new book exploring the scholarly production of Black historians on the African Diaspora from 1885 to 1960.