Aretha Franklin Hid Her Will Under Her Couch Cushions Like a True Diva

Illustration for article titled Aretha Franklin Hid Her Will Under Her Couch Cushions Like a True Diva
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It appears Aretha Franklin did, in fact, have a will, despite reports from last summer that the Queen of Soul died without legally divvying up her $80 million estate. In fact, it appears she had three wills, at least one of which was hidden under her couch cushions. Franklin’s dedication to maintaining her diva reputation post-mortem is highly impressive.

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According to the New York Times, a few weeks ago, three handwritten documents detailing Franklin’s post-death wishes were found in her Detroit home. Two of those wills were found in a locked cabinet, but one was stashed under the sofa cushions, proven storage space for popcorn kernels and the Apple TV remote (at least in my house) in addition to legal documents.

The wills reportedly all detail the specific distribution of her assets—music royalties, jewelry, real estate—among her sons and grandchildren, though they’ve also got some saucy details:

She also uses the document to zing various people she feels served her poorly, including a lawyer, an accountant and the father of one of her sons, who, she wrote, “never made any contribution to his welfare, future or past, monetarily, except $5 or $10.”

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(Her attorney, David J. Bennett, seemed slightly hurt by this, telling the Times in a statement: “I acted as her personal attorney for many years and until the date of her death, so if that is what she thought, I don’t know why she continued with me.” Sad!)

It’s unclear whether the handwritten wills will hold up in court. Though there are Michigan laws recognizing certain handwritten wills, the Times spoke to a few legal experts who noted wills like Franklin’s could be “ambiguous” enough to fall short of legal validation. If that’s the case, Michigan law requires Franklin’s estate to be split up equally among her four sons.

If it’s not, there’s bound to be even more will-related drama. According to the Detroit Free Press, Franklin’s new wills name one of her sons as the estate’s personal representative instead of her niece (who currently holds that position), and she allotted some funds and belongings to various other family members, though her sons are still set to get the bulk of her estate.

Night blogger, author of GOOD THINGS HAPPEN TO PEOPLE YOU HATE.

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DISCUSSION

Man estates and trusts was a class I was barely able to stay awake through, but I do remember that a will that is handwritten and signed by the author (testator?) that is unwitnessed or signed by anyone else is called a holographic will, and that there aren’t too many states left that recognize them as valid documents. Thankfully for her heirs Michigan is one of them, and as long as the holographic is dated, signed by the testator, material portions of the will are in the testator’s handwriting, and it is clear that the document was intended to serve as a will then they can be valid and honored. I’d be interested in actually seeing all three to track changes and to see what the last-in-time version looks like. In any case, if I’m her kids I’m probably trying to keep these out, as $80 million divided four is more than $80 million divided by four plus x. But from my never-gonna-inherit-$20million perch it seems like they should make an effort to honor what their mother wanted.