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Aretha Franklin’s sons awarded property after handwritten will found in a couch

The youngest of the ‘Respect’ singer’s four sons will now receive her gated mansion in suburban Detroit

Nicole Vassell
Wednesday 29 November 2023 14:30 GMT
Aretha Franklin's last performance

More than five years after her death, the queen of soul Aretha Franklin is still making headlines as a long-fought legal battle over her estate moves closer to settlement.

On Monday (27 November), a Detroit judge awarded properties to the four sons of the late singer, four months after a handwritten will discovered under a sofa seat in her home was deemed legitimate.

The will, dated from 2014, trumps another document from 2010, which expressed a more even division of the assets.

At the time of Franklin’s death from pancreatic cancer in August 2018, she was considered not to have left any will at all. This meant that the musician’s assets were set to be split equally between her four sons: Clarence Franklin, Edward Franklin, Ted White Jr and Kecalf Franklin Cunningham.

However, in 2019, two separate handwritten documents were discovered which threw the singer’s wishes into question.

The first will, signed and notarised in 2010, was found locked away, and divided Franklin’s copyrights equally. It also included the wish for her sons to take business administration classes.

The other, a 2014 handwritten memo discovered in a notebook underneath a couch cushion, gave three of Franklin’s three sons equal shares of their mother’s music royalties while awarding Kecalf, Franklin’s youngest son, more of her personal property, including two homes and her cars.

Aretha Franklin (Getty Images)

Interestingly, the document includes notes in the margins and a smiley face in the letter “A”, which appears to be a signature.

In July, a jury decided that the second document, from the couch, would be considered as the “Respect” and “Think” vocalist’s definitive will, despite some of the words being difficult to read.

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Kecalf Franklin Cunningham, 53, will now receive what a lawyer described as the “crown jewel” of Franklin’s four-property real estate portfolio: a gated mansion in suburban Detroit, in which the will was found. The home was valued at $1.1m (£870,000) in 2018, but has increased in value since.

Before the discovery of the 2014 will, Ted White Jr was given a house in Detroit which was sold for $300,000 (£236,358).

Judge Jennifer Callaghan awarded a third son, Edward Franklin, another property under the 2014 will.

Aretha Franklin in 2004 (Getty Images)

Another of Franklin’s properties, worth more than $1m (£787,800), will likely be sold and the proceeds shared by her sons – according to the judge, the 2014 will did not clearly express who should get it.

Kecalf Franklin Cunningham’s lawyer, Charles McKelvie, noted that this marks a “significant step forward” for the estate dispute, adding: “We’ve narrowed the remaining issues”.

Disagreements remain over how to handle Aretha Franklin’s music assets, though the will appears to indicate that the sons would share any income. A status conference with the judge is set for January.

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