Two sons of the late singer Aretha Franklin have clashed over her final wishes in an unusual trial that will determine whether a handwritten document found under sofa cushions will count as her will.
The Queen of Soul died in 2018 aged 76 without a formal, typewritten will, and five years later her legacy is still tied up in a Detroit court after a niece found different sets of handwritten papers at her home.
The issue for a jury is whether a 2014 document found in the sofa counts as a will under Michigan law. If so, it could trump a 2010 handwritten will that was found in a locked cabinet at the same time. The older version had been repeatedly signed by Franklin.
Ted White II, a son who played guitar during his mother’s performances, favours the 2010 document.
“With all the time I spent working with her administratively… every other document that she ever signed was something that was done conventionally and legally” and with assistance from a lawyer, the 60-year-old told the jury.
He acknowledged however that the 2014 document found at the same time in 2019 was also written by his mother.
There are differences between the documents although they both appear to indicate that Franklin’s four sons would share income from music and copyrights.
Four large posters showing pages from the 2014 document were presented to the jury.
That version crossed out White’s name as executor of the estate and named another son, 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 dollars when she died but is worth much more today.
Kecalf Franklin, 53, said he does not consider it unusual that important papers like a will would be discovered in the living room.
Asked by his attorney where Franklin often read mail, made important phone calls, signed documents and even slept, Kecalf Franklin repeatedly said “on the couch”.
A niece, Sabrina Owens, who managed the estate immediately after Franklin’s death, did not appear in court on Monday but her testimony from a formal interview was read aloud.
She explained how she was determined to search Franklin’s house for critical records.
“She would use the kitchen and living room — that was about it,” Ms Owens said. “So when I got to the sofa, I lifted up that far right cushion and there was three notebooks there.”
The jury will hear closing arguments on Tuesday.
The last public accounting filed in March showed the estate had income of 3.9 million dollars (£3.02m) during the previous 12-month period and a similar amount of spending, including more than 900,000 dollars (£700,000) in legal fees to various firms.
Overall assets were put at 4.1 million dollars (£3.2m), mostly cash and property, though Franklin’s creative works and intellectual property were undervalued with just a nominal 1 dollar figure.
Published: by Radio NewsHub