Aretha Franklin described as The Queen of Soul, 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 Detroit renamed 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.
Earlier this week Judge Jennifer Callaghan of the Oakland County Probate Court chose Reginald M. Turner, president-elect of the American Bar Association, as temporary caretaker of Aretha Franklin’s disputed estate
Turner responsibilities will include completing negotiations for a television series starting in May and a motion picture in October.
Turner a longtime friend of Aretha replaces Sabrina Owens, who resigned as executor, citing the disagreements among the family members. Mr. Turner was recommended by lawyers for Kecalf Franklin, 49, the singer’s youngest son.
Sabrina had a close relationship with Aretha, particularly toward the end of her life — she accompanied Aretha to doctor’s appointments and, helped arrange her memorial service.
Sabrina accepted the role of executor “under two important conditions”: that “no fractured relationships” develop in the family, and that disagreements did not end up in court — “both of which,” she wrote, “have occurred.”
Sabrina discovered two 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.
However, the wills appeared to be disorganized and look more like rough drafts; words are crossed out and the documents contain notes in the margins and arrows.
David Bennett, who was Aretha’s lawyer for more than 40 years, sought clarification that the Wills were legal under Michigan law. A statement from the estate said two sons object to the wills. Michigan law gives great weight to the wishes if they are a clear and convincing expression of the deceased’s wishes.
Arethas sons are still in continuing Court action over who controls the rights to her image and music and how her assets should be distributed.
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.