PONTIAC, Mich. - A Michigan judge narrowed the issues Monday in a dispute over Aretha Franklin's estate, saying the only task for jurors is whether a 2014 document handwritten by the Queen of Soul and found in couch cushions can be accepted as a valid will.
The stipulation was made by attorneys for Franklin's sons before jury selection began in Oakland County Probate Court.
Franklin died in 2018 at age 76. But five years later, the music superstar's estate remains unsettled. A son, Ted White II, believes a 2010 handwritten will should mainly control the estate, but two other sons, Kecalf Franklin and Edward Franklin, are in favor of a 2014 document.
Both were found in 2019, months after Franklin died. The 2014 document was under cushions at Franklin's home in suburban Detroit.
The brothers sat shoulder to shoulder behind their lawyers in Judge Jennifer Callaghan's courtroom. Another brother, Clarence Franklin, is under a guardianship and apparently is not participating in the trial.
There are differences between the documents, though they both appear to indicate the sons would share income from music and copyrights, which seems to make that issue less contentious than a few others.
The 2014 version crossed out White’s name as executor and has Kecalf Franklin in his place. Kecalf Franklin and grandchildren would get his mother’s main home in Bloomfield Hills, which was valued at $1.1 million when she died but is worth much more today.
For five years, Aretha Franklin’s estate has been handled at different times by three executors, known under Michigan estate law as a personal representative. A niece, Sabrina Owens, quit in 2020, citing a "rift" among the sons.
The last public accounting filed in March showed the estate had income of $3.9 million during the previous 12-month period and a similar amount of spending, including more than $900,000 in legal fees to various firms.
Overall assets were pegged at $4.1 million, mostly cash and real estate, though Franklin’s creative works and intellectual property were undervalued with just a nominal $1 figure.