Handwritten wills, if real, shed light on Aretha Franklin

Image: Aretha Franklin performs at New York's Radio City Music Hall
Aretha Franklin at Radio City Music Hall in New York in July 1989. Copyright Mario Suriani AP file
Copyright Mario Suriani AP file
By Alex Johnson with NBC News Entertainment
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One of the wills, none of which have been authenticated, names a surprise father for one of the late singer's sons.


Representatives of Aretha Franklin's estate and her family have asked a judge to tell them what to do with three handwritten wills found hidden in her home, one of which includes a big surprise.

The wills were discovered May 3 in Franklin's Detroit-area home, two in a locked closet for which the key was hard to find and one in a spiral notebook stuffed under cushions on a sofa, according to documents filed Monday in probate court in Oakland County, Michigan.

When Franklin died in August, lawyers reported that she had no will.

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The 16 scrawled pages haven't yet been authenticated as being in Franklin's handwriting, attorneys for Franklin's four sons and the personal representative in charge of the estate wrote. And even if they are real, it's not clear that they're valid, according to the court documents, which ask the judge to sort through it all and determine where to go next.

But if they are real, they reveal a savvy businesswoman who was intent on making sure her sons were treated fairly. Several times across all three documents, she writes that her assets should go equally to her three younger sons and outlines detailed instructions for the care of her eldest son, Clarence, who has special needs that have never been publicly disclosed.

About Clarence ...

Oakland County, Michigan, Probate Court
A page from one of three handwritten wills believed to have been left by Aretha Franklin, who died last year.Oakland County, Michigan, Probate Court

Clarence Franklin was born in 1957, when Aretha Franklin was just 12 years old. Franklin rarely talked about her family and personal life, and for decades, Clarence Franklin's father has been reported to have been a man named Donald Burk, sometimes rendered as Burke, who was a schoolmate of the singer's.

Not according to one of the purported wills, dated June 21, 2010. It says Clarence's father is Edward Jordan Sr. — who's also the acknowledged father of another of the singer's sons, Edward, who was born when she was 14.

Little is known about him, but Franklin was decidedly unimpressed by Jordan, who is described in David Ritz's monumental 2014 biography, "Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin," only as a "player" whom Franklin once knew.

Page 6 of the purported will includes this adamant declaration as part of the instructions for Clarence Franklin's care: "His father, Edward Jordan Sr., should never receive or handle any money or property belonging to Clarence or that Clarence receives as he has never made any contribution to his welfare, future or past, monetarily, material, spiritual, etc."

Both instances of the word "never" are underlined for emphasis.

A hearing was scheduled for June 12.

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