John Hoffman Law Office
Akron, Ohio Estate Planning and Medicaid Law Firm
Estate Planning and Medicaid Blog
“Thursday brought one of the most dramatic courtroom moments so far in Aretha Franklin’s long-running estate saga, as a judge heard 20 minutes of newly uncovered voicemails left by the Detroit star shortly before her death.”
In some voicemail messages from May 2018, Aretha Franklin mentions her desired adjustments to a will recently drafted by an attorney she’d hired. While Franklin is heard saying she’d like to arrange an office visit “to finish this,” those voicemails turned out to be her last communication with the attorney, and the eight-page document remained unsigned when she died a few months later.
The Detroit Free Press’ recent article, “Aretha Franklin voicemails revealed in court as estate battle takes latest twist,” reports that these voicemails made for a chilling “voice-from-the-grave” scene in the courtroom of Oakland County Probate Judge Jennifer Callaghan. The counsel for Franklin’s four sons gathered at the judge’s bench as audio was streamed from a laptop computer while three of the sons listened on from the gallery. Learn more about Ohio Probate Court, which has procedures that vary from those in Michigan.
In the recordings left on the voicemail of the Troy estate attorney, the Queen of Soul sounds polite but firm as she states her requested changes to the drafted will.
The hearing was the latest twist in the long estate battle complicated by the discovery of multiple conflicting documents that indicate her final wishes. The 2018 draft is one of three wills as the judge considers how the estate will be distributed among the four sons and other heirs.
The document was filed to the court in 2021 by Ted White II, the second youngest of Franklin’s sons. It followed the appearance of two handwritten wills, penned by the singer in 2010 and 2014 and found tucked away in her home after her death. The wills have varying instructions, which has made for a contentious impasse among her sons. The 2018 draft is the only one that calls for assets to be split equally among the three youngest, with eldest son Clarence Franklin, who has special needs and is under guardianship, to be supported by a trust.
A jury trial is scheduled for July to determine which — if any — of the documents should be upheld. The recent hearing was scheduled to determine if the unsigned 2018 draft is admissible under Michigan statutes. The judge is expected to rule later this month.
Reference: Detroit Free Press (April 21, 2023) “Aretha Franklin voicemails revealed in court as estate battle takes latest twist”