A Michigan jury has ruled that a 2014 document, discovered in the late Aretha Franklin’s couch after her passing, is indeed a valid will determining the fate of her multi-million dollar estate. The legendary Queen of Soul, known for her powerful voice and timeless hits, left behind an estimated fortune of $80 million when she succumbed to pancreatic cancer in August 2018.
A Battle of Wills
The two-day trial pitted Franklin’s children against each other, with the spotlight on two handwritten versions of the singer’s final wishes. Attorneys representing two of Franklin’s sons argued that their half-brother, Ted White, sought to disinherit them. The contentious issue revolved around the validity of the documents discovered posthumously.
The Hidden Will
When Franklin passed away, it was widely believed that she had not prepared a will. However, nine months later, her niece, Sabrina Owens, who served as the estate’s executor, stumbled upon two separate sets of handwritten documents at the singer’s home in Detroit. The intriguing twist? One version, dated June 2010, was found inside a locked desk drawer, alongside record contracts and other papers. The newer version, from March 2014, emerged from a spiral notebook wedged beneath the living room sofa cushions.
Six jurors in the city of Pontiac deliberated over whether the 2014 document qualified as a valid will. Their unanimous decision came swiftly, in less than an hour. The heart of the dispute lay in the distinctions between the two documents regarding the inheritance of Franklin’s four children.
Under the validated will, three sons would evenly split her music royalties and bank funds. Meanwhile, the youngest child, Kecalf, and his grandchildren would inherit their mother’s primary residence—a gated mansion last valued at $1.2 million. However, the 2010 document proposed a more even distribution of assets, with a caveat: Kecalf and another son, Edward, must pursue business education to benefit fully from the estate.
The Couch Connection
During the trial, Kecalf testified that his mother often conducted business while seated on the couch, making the discovery of a will there unsurprising. His lawyer emphasized that the nature of the notebook’s location was “inconsequential.” As Charles McKelvie argued, “You can take your will and leave it on the kitchen counter; it’s still your will.”
Edward’s lawyer, Craig Smith, seized upon the document’s opening line: “To whom it may concern and being of sound mind, I write my will and testimony.” Smith contended that their mother was “speaking from the grave,” while alleging that Teddy (Ted White) aimed to disinherit his two brothers.
A Legal Saga Concluded
Tuesday’s verdict brings closure to a nearly five-year legal battle within the Franklin family. The soul superstar’s legacy, now etched in ink and hidden within the folds of a sofa, continues to resonate. Aretha Franklin’s music touched hearts worldwide, and her will—whether found in a desk drawer or nestled beneath cushions—will shape her family’s destiny for generations to come.