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Aretha Franklin’s note found in her sofa is legal and valid will, jury rules

The tale of two wills gets a verdict. Pictured here: Aretha Franklin performs during the 85th annual Christmas tree lighting at the New York Stock Exchange in 2008
The tale of two wills gets a verdict. Pictured here: Aretha Franklin performs during the 85th annual Christmas tree lighting at the New York Stock Exchange in 2008 Copyright AP
Copyright AP
By David MouriquandAP
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Two different notes found by Franklin's niece in 2019, dated four years apart, named two different sons as beneficiaries to her estate. Now, the tale of two wills gets its resolution...

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A document handwritten by singer Aretha Franklin and found in her sofa after her 2018 death has been ruled as a valid Michigan will, a jury said.

This is a critical turn in a dispute that has turned her sons against each other, and the verdict ends a nearly five-year legal fight within the Franklin family.

It’s a victory for Kecalf Franklin and Edward Franklin, whose lawyers had argued that papers dated 2014 should override a 2010 will that was discovered around the same time in a locked cabinet at the Queen of Soul’s home in suburban Detroit.

The jury deliberated less than an hour after a brief trial that started on Monday.

After the verdict was read, Aretha Franklin's grandchildren stepped forward from the first row to hug Kecalf and Edward.

“I'm very, very happy. I just wanted my mother's wishes to be adhered to,” Kecalf Franklin said. “We just want to exhale right now. It's been a long five years for my family, my children.”

Sarahbeth Maney / Detroit Free Press via AP
Aretha Franklin's granddaughter Grace Franklin, 17, smiles while embracing her family members after the jury rendered its verdictSarahbeth Maney / Detroit Free Press via AP

Aretha Franklin was a global star for decades, known especially for hits like 'Think', 'I Say a Little Prayer' and 'Respect'. She did not leave behind a formal, typewritten will when she died five years ago at age 76.

But documents, with scribbles and hard-to-decipher passages, emerged in 2019 when a niece scoured the home for records.

In closing arguments, lawyers for Kecalf and Edward Franklin said the fact that the 2014 papers were found in a notebook in couch cushions did not make them less significant.

"You can take your will and leave it on the kitchen counter. It’s still your will,” Charles McKelvie told the jury.

Another lawyer, Craig Smith, pointed to the first line of the document, which was displayed on four large posters in front of the jury.

“Says right here: ‘This is my will.’ She’s speaking from the grave, folks,” Smith said of Franklin.

Oakland County Probate Court
The 2014 will includes the quote: "Being of sound mind, I write my will and testimony"Oakland County Probate Court

There still will be discussions over whether some provisions of the 2010 will should be fulfilled and whether Kecalf Franklin could become executor of the estate. Judge Jennifer Callaghan told all sides to file briefs and attend a status conference next week.

There are differences between the 2010 and 2014 versions, though they both appear to indicate that Franklin’s four sons would share income from music and copyrights. But under the 2014 will, Kecalf Franklin and grandchildren would get his mother’s main home in Bloomfield Hills, which was valued at $1.1 million (approx. €998,000) when she died but is worth much more today.

The older will said Kecalf, 53, and Edward Franklin, 64, “must take business classes and get a certificate or a degree” to benefit from the estate. That provision is not in the 2014 version.

Outside court after the verdict, Kecalf Franklin said: "I'm very, very happy. I just wanted my mother's wishes to be adhered to. We just want to exhale right now. It's been a long five years for my family, my children."

Although he did not appear to speak with his brother Ted in the courtroom, he added: "I love my brother with all my heart."

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