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Judge Awards Aretha Franklin’s Properties to her Sons after Will found in Couch

Aretha Franklin’s estate has been contested since she died of pancreatic cancer back in August 2018. Aretha Franklin did not leave formal directions stating what she wanted to happen upon her death in a Will. Consequently, the fate of her $80 million (£63 million) estate rested on a handwritten note found between cushions on her couch nine months after her death.

The hand-written note was signed with a smiley face

On Monday 27th November 2023 a jury concluded that a handwritten note dated 31st March 2014 and signed with a smiley face inside a letter was a valid Will and overruled an older note from 2010. Her youngest son, Kecalf, was gifted the largest property in her estate, her gated mansion in Detroit which was valued at £1.1 million. Within Aretha Franklin’s estate she owned a total of four properties across Detroit, in the USA.

Aretha Franklin’s son Ted, who favoured the earlier 2010 Will, was awarded her second property which was sold for $300,000 before the Wills had been discovered. It is thought that Ted will argue that he should be entitled to the sale proceeds of the property.

The Judge awarded Aretha Franklin’s third property to her son Edward, with the fourth property worth approximately £790,000 expected to be sold and the proceeds split between her four sons. The judge noted that the 2014 will did not clearly state what Aretha Franklin’s intentions were with this property.

Image: A picture of hand written note

The dispute is on-going

The dispute as to what should happen with Aretha Franklin’s music assets remains ongoing, with a further hearing set for January next year.

This 5-year legal battle, which is not over yet, has caused a well documented rift between her family. It is a clear example of the importance of ensuring that you seek professional advice in drafting your Will and the pitfalls that can be seen with home made Wills.

Do you need help drafting a Will?

Our Wills and Probate Team can help with drafting your Will and provide you with the expert advice that you need. We also offer regular Will reviews to ensure that your Will remains up to date and in line with your instructions and circumstances. If you would like to speak to one of our specialist private client lawyers, please contact us on 01244 312 306 or at

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