Aretha Franklin & the 3 Informal Wills

Following up a previous post regarding Aretha Franklin who died from advanced pancreatic cancer in August last year.  Described as The Queen of Soul, Aretha won 18 Grammy Awards and had more than 100 singles on the Billboard charts;  at the time of her death, it was reported that Aretha had not left a will or established a trust.

Aretha’s estate could be worth millions of dollars; as it contains not just her music catalogue but also clothing, memorabilia and rights to her likeness. The estate is currently in negotiations for a TV series and movie about Aretha’s life.

The Internal Revenue Service is currently auditing Aretha’s tax returns after claiming more than $6 million in taxes in December.

Detroit renamed of a city-owned outdoor music amphitheatre after Aretha. At the unveiling the Mayor claimed

“This daughter of Detroit has a permanent memorial,”

Under Michigan law, the assets of an unmarried person who dies without a will are divided equally among their children. Aretha had been married and divorced twice. Following her death, her four sons filed a document listing themselves as interested parties in her estate stating that Aretha

“…died intestate and after exercising reasonable diligence, I am unaware of any unrevoked testamentary instrument relating to property located in this state as defined.”

Aretha’s niece Sabrina Owens asked the court to appoint her, (and Aretha’s Sons agreed, that Sabrina should act) as personal representative of the estate.

Early this month, Sabrina discovered a key to a locked cabinet at Aretha’s home. The cabinet contained 2 handwritten wills from 2010; one states that a previous will from decades earlier is “no good.” , the other is 11 pages long and is signed by a notary.

Sabrina discovered a further will, dated March 2014, located in a notebook found under living room cushions; although difficult to read the document sets aside various assets for family members, including her sons and grandchildren, in this document, Aretha states she wants her son Kecalf Franklin, to serve as personal representative of the estate.

After filing the documents in Court David Bennett, who was Aretha’s lawyer for more than 40 years, sought clarification that the Wills were legal under Michigan law. The Court has scheduled a hearing for June 12. A statement from the estate said two sons object to the wills. Until then Sabrina will continue to serve as personal representative of the estate.

In a Separate dispute, Kecalf is objecting to Sabrina’s plan to sell a piece of land for $325,000.

Michigan law gives great weight to the wishes if they are a clear and convincing expression of the deceased’s wishes. Last year the State Supreme Court allowed a man’s final written words stored on a phone as a will.

However, the newly discovered wills appear disorganized and look more like rough drafts; words are crossed out and the documents contain notes in the margins and arrows.

It is not uncommon for people to die intestate, as I have posted Prince, Billie Holliday, and Kurt Cobain died intestate, however, given Aretha’s legacy, business acumen, and long illness it is surprising that she didn’t make better arrangements for the control of her legacy.






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