Franklin’s sons have disputed which version of their mother’s will is valid following the singer’s 2018 death.
A jury in the United States has ruled that a handwritten will found in singer Aretha Franklin’s couch is a valid legal document.
Tuesday’s ruling in the midwestern state of Michigan represents the latest turn in a legal battle over Franklin’s estate, initially valued in the tens of millions of dollars, though that number was revised down to a reported $6m this year.
The singer, known for chart-topping songs like “Respect” and “Think”, died in 2018.
While no formal will was left behind after Franklin’s death, two versions were discovered when her niece searched her Detroit home in 2019. One, from 2010, was found in a locked cabinet. The second, from 2014, was found in the singer’s couch.
The duelling documents sparked a dispute between Franklin’s four sons.
Both versions contained several scribbles and hard-to-decipher passages and appeared to indicate that Franklin’s four sons would share income from her music and copyrights.
But under the 2014 will, her son Kecalf Franklin, 53, and his grandchildren would get his mother’s main home in Bloomfield Hills. It was valued at $1.1m when she died but has since increased significantly in value.
The 2014 will also did not include a provision from the 2010 version that said Kecalf and another son, Edward Franklin, 64, “must take business classes and get a certificate or a degree” to benefit from the estate.
“I’m very, very happy. I just wanted my mother’s wishes to be adhered to,” Kecalf Franklin said after the ruling. “We just want to exhale right now. It’s been a long five years for my family, my children.”
The case pitted the two men against a third brother, Ted White II, who said the 2010 will should be honoured.
A lawyer for White, who at times played guitar in his mother’s band, argued the 2010 will was under lock and key, indicating a greater significance than the document found in the couch.
In turn, lawyers for Kecalf and Edward Franklin argued there was nothing legally significant about where the documents were found.
Location is “inconsequential”, lawyer Charles McKelvie argued. “You can take your will and leave it on the kitchen counter. It’s still your will.”
Franklin, often referred to as the “Queen of Soul“, rocketed to international stardom with a string of hits beginning in the 1960s.
Beyond her amped-up version of Otis Redding’s “Respect”, she scored major successes with songs like “Chain of Fools”, “Think” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”.