Aretha Franklin’s Afterlife Is A Drama-Fueled Affair

It’s been two years since the Queen of Soul was laid to rest following a glitzy, hours-long funeral featuring multiple wardrobe changes and 100 pink Cadillacs. With an afterlife that began in such a fashion, is it any surprise that her estate plan is proving just as dramatic? 

We’ve previously blogged about the fact that she was believed to have died intestate but was later discovered to have multiple different hand-written wills, one of which was found in the cushions of a couch. 

Why is Aretha Franklin’s estate not settled?

According to Hour Detroit, significant differences between the documents, which were written years apart, are causing a lot of family drama. 

The 2010 edition dictated regular allowances and bequests of specific items to her sons — Clarence, Edward, Kecalf, and Ted White Jr. It also tossed off beyond-the-grave zingers at people she felt had wronged her, including ex-husband Edward Jordan Sr., who, she wrote, “never made any contribution to [their son Clarence’s] welfare, future or past, monetarily, except $5 or $10.” The 2014 version more simply divvies up her assets among her children and grandchildren but relies on her three youngest sons to determine how much money their oldest brother, Clarence, needs. Clarence, for decades, has lived in a group home near Detroit because of chronic mental illness and is represented by a court-appointed attorney…

2010 will name [Franklin’s niece Sabrina] Owens and Ted as Franklin’s “personal representatives”… but in the 2014 one, Franklin wrote in the names of Owens, Ted, and Kecalf and then, apparently, crossed out the first two. In the tussle over who gets to run Aretha Inc., Kecalf has accused Owens and Bennett of mishandling the estate in ways big (plans to sell real estate) and petty (Owens drove Aretha’s 2016 Mercedes). Owens and Bennett have slapped back, noting that 49-year-old Kecalf didn’t complain when the estate paid for his power bill and for lawyers to deal with his 2019 DUI arrest. (Owens also says she drove the car weekly to keep it in “operational condition.”)

Owens, who was appointed the serve as the personal representative in charge of managing the estate before any wills were found, resigned earlier this year, citing her frustration with the family’s bickering. Now, a Detroit attorney with no previous estate administration experience has been appointed by the court to step in and sort things out. 

This mess could have been avoided, and the Franklin family’s private affairs could have been shielded from public view if Aretha had worked with an experienced estate planning attorney to execute a formal plan before her death. Perhaps it was too difficult for her to think about her own death, but do you really think she would be happy to know that her family members are in a bitter dispute that is playing out in the national news? 

Avoiding drama and keeping personal affairs private are the two biggest benefits of estate planning. At Palmer & Slay we discuss both of these points in-depth with our clients. Most people’s estate will not cause the same amount of drama or attract the public scrutiny that Franklin’s has, but why run the risk when such things can easily be avoided?