'She's Speaking From the Grave:' Aretha Franklin's Handwritten Will Found Stashed Under Couch Cushions Deemed Valid In the years after the singer's death, Franklin's family has been at odds over differing handwritten wills.

By Sam Silverman

Key Takeaways

  • A jury ruled that a will found under a couch cushion is valid because it had Franklin's signature, smiley face "A."
  • Aretha Franklin's estate is estimated to be worth $18 million.

We've heard of napkin deals holding up in court, but a couch cushion will is a new one.

In the battle over Aretha Franklin's estate, a Michigan jury on Tuesday ruled that a handwritten will discovered stashed away under a couch cushion is valid over a conflicting document found locked away elsewhere.

The "Respect" singer's family has been at odds over her assets since the 20-time Grammy Award winner died in 2018 at the age of 76 after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

At the time of her death, Franklin's family believed she didn't have a will, according to The New York Times. But months later, they discovered a spiral notebook dated 2014 hidden under a couch cushion in her Detroit home, along with another handwritten document dated 2010 found locked in a cabinet. While both included detailed lists of her assets, neither was professionally prepared by a lawyer.

Image Credit: Leon Morris/Redferns/Getty Images | Aretha Franklin performing at New Orleans Jazz Fest.

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In the 2010 document, Franklin gave specific instructions to give each of her four sons (Clarence Franklin, Kecalf Frankin, Ted White II, and Edward Franklin) weekly and monthly allowances, per NYT. It came with a stipulation that Kecalf and Edward "take business classes and get a certificate or a degree" before collecting their inheritance.

However, the 2014 will states that her sons (minus Clarence who's in an assisted living facility) would receive equal shares of her music royalties, but her son Kecalf would also be entitled to more of her personal property including her Bloomfield Hills, Mich. home, which was valued at $1.1 million at the time of her death, and her car collection.

Sons Kecalf and Edward favored the 2014 draft as they believe it was her final wishes, while White felt that the 2010 document should stand as it was much more detailed and had her initials on every page.

During the trial, lawyer Craig Smith pointed to the first line of the 2014 document as evidence.

"Says right here: 'This is my will.' She's speaking from the grave, folks," Smith said of Franklin at the time, per the Associated Press.

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The jury deliberated for less than an hour and ruled in favor of the 2014 document on account of her signature on the document that had a smiley face in the "A."

Franklin's estate is valued at $18 million, according to Smith. In 2021, the estate agreed to pay $8 million in federal income taxes and set aside 40 percent of incoming revenues from royalties and licensing to pay off the tax balance, per NYT.

Court documents indicate that Franklin had $4.1 million in personal property and real estate, $42,000 in furs, and $73,000 in jewelry, in addition to over $1 million in bank balances.

Sam Silverman

Entrepreneur Staff

Content Strategy Editor

Sam Silverman is a content strategy editor at Entrepreneur Media. She specializes in search engine optimization (SEO), and her work can be found in The US Sun, Nicki Swift, In Touch Weekly, Life & Style and Health. She writes for our news team with a focus on investigating scandals. Her coverage and expertise span from business news, entrepreneurship, technology, and true crime, to the latest in entertainment and TV news. Sam is a graduate of Lehigh University and currently resides in NYC. 

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