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Following Battle Over Aretha Franklin’s Estate, Sons Awarded Property Based on Handwritten Will Discovered In Couch

In a surprising turn of events, the sons of late legendary singer Aretha Franklin’s have been granted ownership of her former properties due to a handwritten will that was discovered hidden in couch cushions. The decision, made four months after a Detroit-area jury deemed the document valid despite its challenging readability, has finally brought closure to a contentious legal battle regarding Franklin’s estate.

Aretha Franklin performs at The Blacks’ Annual Gala at Fontainebleau Miami Beach on October 25, 2014 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo by Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images for The Blacks’ Annual Gala)

The Will Drama

When Franklin, one of the greatest soul voices in the history of music, died in 2018 from pancreatic cancer, it was widely believed that she had not made any formal arrangements for her estate, which included real estate properties, cash assets, gold records, furs and valuable music copyrights.

The legal battle over her estate ensued. Nine months after her death, her niece Sabrina Owens, who served as the estate’s executor at the time, found two separate sets of handwritten documents at Franklin’s Detroit home, BBC reported. One of these handwritten wills, dated June 2010, was discovered within a locked desk drawer, alongside record contracts and other documents. The other, dated March 2014, was found within a spiral notebook, beneath the cushions of the living room sofa.

Both versions of the will indicated Franklin’s desire to have her four sons share the income generated from her music and copyrights. But there were differences in various sections of the two documents and this sparked a legal dispute among her sons regarding their mother’s intentions.

The 2010 will, which was favored by one of her sons, Ted White II, divided her assets more evenly among her heirs. The 2014 left her gated mansion in suburban Detroit, valued at $1.1 million in 2018, to her youngest son, Kecalf Franklin, and the document also implied that she wanted him to take control of her estate.

Ted questioned if his mother had actually signed the 2014 will, as it was signed with a smiley face inside the letter “A.” He contended that his mother would have executed a will in a conventional and legal manner rather than writing it freehand. On top of this, the 2010 will, which was inside a locked drawer, was considered more secure than one concealed within couch cushions. The 2014 had the quote “…being of sound mind, I write my will and testimony.”

According to a jury, the 2014 will held precedence over the 2010 document. As a result of the ruling, Kecalf and his children will now have ownership of their mother’s mansion in suburban Detroit. Another son, Edward Franklin, was granted another property outlined in the 2014 will, while Ted White II was provided a house in Detroit — although this property had already been sold by the estate for $300,000.

One remaining property, valued at over $1 million, is expected to be sold, and the proceeds will be divided among all four sons.

Then there is the matter of Franklin’s music assets. A status conference with the judge has been scheduled for January to address this issue.


As Finurah previously reported, in 2022, the estate revealed it has paid off a $7.8 million IRS debt. Franklin owed millions to the IRS and this held up her heirs receiving the full estate, which was estimated at $80 million at the time of her death. That estimate includes the value of her likeness, music catalog and royalty stream.

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