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Jury starts deliberating the case of competing wills in Aretha Franklin estate

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Jury starts deliberating the case of competing wills in Aretha Franklin estate
July 11, 2023
The Los Angeles Post - AP

PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) — Lawyers for two of Aretha Franklin’s sons urged a Michigan jury Tuesday to declare a 2014 document as the music superstar's valid will, saying there’s nothing legally significant about finding the handwritten papers in a notebook in her couch.

It's “inconsequential. ... You can take your will and leave it on the kitchen counter. It's still your will,” Charles McKelvie said in closing arguments in a suburban Detroit court before the jury began deliberations.

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.

Franklin, known as the Queen of Soul, did not leave behind a formal, typewritten will when she died five years ago at age 76. But two documents, with scribbles and hard-to-decipher passages, emerged in 2019 when a niece was scouring the home for records.

Franklin’s estate managers have been paying bills, settling millions in tax debts and generating income through music royalties and other intellectual property. The will dispute, however, has been unfinished business.

One will, dated 2010, was locked in a cabinet. Another, dated four years later, was found around the time same in the living room under cushions. The issue for the jury: Is the 2014 version valid under Michigan law? If so, it could trump the 2010 version.

There are differences between the competing documents, though they both appear to indicate 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 when she died but is worth much more today.

“The crown jewel,” Smith told jurors.

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.

Kecalf and Edward have teamed up against brother Ted White II, who favors the 2010 will.

“Teddy wants to disinherit his two brothers. Teddy wants it all,” Smith told the jury in the sharpest remark during final arguments.

White's attorney, Kurt Olson, noted the 2010 will was under lock and key. He said it's much more significant than papers found in a couch.

“They're trying to make Ted a bad guy,” said Olson, who argued that Franklin's signature was not in a proper place to make the 2014 document valid.

Franklin was a global star for decades, known for hits like “Think,” “I Say a Little Prayer” and “Respect.”

___

Follow Ed White on Twitter at http://twitter.com/edwritez

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