Dispute Over Aretha Franklin's Handwritten Will Ends

A jury recently decided that Aretha Franklin’s 2014 handwritten will, which was found stuffed in her couch, is a legal document. A dispute involving the validity of the will, which turned Franklin’s family against each other, serves as a reminder of the importance of proper estate planning.

The dispute

Franklin’s sons Kecalf and Edward Franklin argued that a handwritten will authored by Franklin in 2014 should override a 2010 will that was locked inside a cabinet at Franklin’s home. Franklin did not leave behind a formal will when she died in 2018 at the age of 76 from pancreatic cancer.

Attorneys for Kecalf and Edward stated that the document, even though it was found in a sofa, was just as significant as the one which was locked away. In addition, the attorneys stated that the first line of the handwritten document stated: “This is my will.”

The opposing party was Franklin’s other son Ted White II, whose attorney argued that the 2010 document should stand because it was locked in a cabinet. Franklin’s fourth son, Clarence Franklin, was not involved in the litigation.

The handwritten will provides that Kecalf and Franklin’s grandchildren are entitled to Franklin’s Bloomfield Hills home. The 2010 will states that the sons would have to earn a degree or certificate in business before becoming entitled to the estate. The 2014 will did not have that stipulation.

Both versions of the will provide four sons the rights to music royalties and copyrights.

The dispute highlights the importance of proper estate planning

In Michigan, a handwritten (holographic) will is legally binding if the testator (writer of the will) is at least 18 years old and if the document is signed by two competent witnesses. However, most legal experts will argue against using handwritten wills because of the many mistakes a person is likely to make.

Instead, it is important to develop an estate plan, which is an important series of tasks that will ultimately help ease some of the burden on the family at the testator’s time of death. The transfer of property, tax planning, and several other matters are addressed with an estate plan.

Help is available

The estate planning and probate attorneys at O’Reilly Rancilio offer comprehensive planning and administration services to individuals and families. To speak to an attorney, call 586-726-1000 or visit our website.

Categories: Estate Planning