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Aretha Franklin Estate: Handwriting Experts to Examine Wills

Michigan court takes partial control of late singer’s estate as heirs spar at testy hearing Tuesday

Aretha Franklin'Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives' premiere, Tribeca Film Festival Opening Night, Concert, New York, USA - 19 Apr 2017

Handwriting experts have been enlisted to examine Aretha Franklin's wills as family members continue to battle over late singer's estate.

Clint Spaulding/WWD/Shutterstock

Aretha Franklin’s heirs vied for control over her estate at a periodically testy hearing in Oakland County, Michigan Tuesday.

The hearing ended with Judge Jennifer Callaghan putting the estate’s administration partly under court supervision, the Detroit Free Press reports. The court will play an active role in many major decisions, such as property sales, though Franklin’s niece, Sabrina Owens, will remain the personal representative for the estate.

Over the past few months, factions have begun to emerge among Franklin’s various heirs. As The Associated Press noted, after Franklin’s death last August, her heirs decided to put Owens, a university administrator, in charge of the estate. But since then, Franklin’s youngest son, Kecalf Franklin has tried to gain control, especially after three wills ostensibly penned by Franklin were found this May in a notebook under some couch cushions.

Two of the three documents were dated 2010, while the other, from 2014, seems to suggest Franklin wanted Kecalf to assume control over her estate. During the hearing Tuesday, Judge Callaghan approved Kecalf’s request to have a handwriting expert examine the wills and determine whether or not they were written by Franklin. Other family members will also be allowed to enlist handwriting experts to examine the documents.

Kecalf is being supported in his attempt to gain control over the estate by his brother, Edward, who is Franklin’s second-oldest son. Owens, meanwhile, has the support of Franklin’s third son, Ted White, as well as the guardian for her eldest son, Clarence, who has special needs. A filing on behalf of Clarence read, ”Kecalf Franklin, throughout his life, has not exhibited or displayed any ability or inclination to support himself and lacks the financial knowledge or ability to act as a fiduciary.”

In a statement released after the hearing, Kecalf said, “Our mother has enriched the world with music, art and service of activism more than half of her life. The loss of our mother has traumatized our family. Despite our grief, we find ourselves in a battle to defend and protect this legacy against those who wish to disrespect, slander and exploit it.”

An attorney for Owens defended her handling of Franklin’s estate so far, citing the $1.1 million earned from the documentary, Amazing Grace and her management of the estate’s tangled finances, including the $6.3 million owed to the IRS in back taxes (Franklin was apparently lackadaisical when it came to accounting, at one point stashing $750,000 in uncashed checks in her purse for months).

Elsewhere during the hearing, it was revealed that Franklin’s four sons have each received $350,000 from the estate since the singer’s death, while it was ostensibly confirmed that $178,000 was fraudulently taken from Franklin’s bank account months before her death. Other topics of discussion included the stalled status of a planned Franklin biopic starring Jennifer Hudson (Owens’ lawyer suggested the estate wasn’t pleased with what the studio, MGM, was offering), and what to do with Franklin’s personal items, especially those of potential historical significance. Several museums have reportedly reached out to the estate, as has former President Barack Obama, who is seeking the hat Franklin wore to his inauguration in 2009.

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