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Probate Dispute News: Aretha Franklin’s Holographic Will, by Steve Spitzer


Aretha Franklin’s legendary singing career spanned five-plus decades. The “Queen of Soul” made the most appearances on the Billboard charts of any female performer ever. She died from pancreatic cancer in August of 2018 at age 76. 

1. Probate Case 

It was initially thought that Franklin died without a will. A niece, Sabrina Owens, was appointed as the administrator of the estate, which is pending in a Detroit suburb. Earlier this month, Owens was searching Franklin’s home and discovered three handwritten wills. 

Two wills from 2010 were found inside a locked cabinet. One from 2014 was found in a spiral bound notebook under the cushions of a couch. The wills are difficult to read, are disorganized and look like rough drafts. Words are crossed out and are written in the margins. The primary beneficiaries are Franklin’s four sons. 

2. Disputed Issues 

The four sons have been unable to reach an agreement about the validity of the wills. Owens has filed a petition to have the court rule on the validity of the wills and the meaning of them. A hearing is set for June 12. 

3. Estate Impact 

The value of Franklin’s estate is not yet known, but it is likely to be worth millions of dollars. Appraisers have been hired to value the assets, including Franklin’s music catalog, her likeness, concert gowns, and memorabilia. 

Unfortunately, the value of the estate will be reduced by the cost of the litigation over the wills. A holographic will is better than no will at all, but a will properly prepared by an attorney would have saved Franklin’s estate considerable expense. 

About the author: 
Steve Spitzer is an attorney, and managing shareholder of Ramey & Flock Law Firm. He focuses on probate litigation, will contests, guardianship and trust disputes. Mr. Spitzer was a successful litigator for a major Dallas law firm from 1989 to 2011, and has been with Ramey & Flock since 2012. If you are in need of probate services or other legal counsel, contact Mr. Spitzer or his colleagues here.

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