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Is Aretha Franklin’s ‘Voice-from-the-Grave’ Having an Impact on Litigation Over Estate

Is Aretha Franklin’s ‘Voice-from-the-Grave’ Having an Impact on Litigation Over Estate?

May 18, 2023 • | Law Office of Zachary D Kamykowski, PLLC
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 May 2018, Aretha Franklin left a few voicemail messages to her hired attorney to discuss some changes she wanted in her recently drafted will. Although she mentioned arranging an office visit to finalize the document, these voicemails turned out to be her last communication with the attorney, and the eight-page will remained unsigned until her death 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.

In the recordings, Aretha Franklin's "voice-from-the-grave," 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.

In 2021, Ted White II, the second youngest son of Franklin, submitted a document to the court. This was in response to the discovery of two handwritten wills, created by the singer in 2010 and 2014, that were found in her residence after her passing. The content of these wills differs, creating a contentious situation among her sons. The 2018 draft is the only will that calls for an equal distribution of assets among the three youngest sons, with the eldest son, Clarence Franklin, who requires special care and is under guardianship, receiving support through 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 whether Aretha Franklin's "vocie-from-the-grave," will affect how here estate distributes.

Reference: Detroit Free Press (April 21, 2023) “Aretha Franklin voicemails revealed in court as estate battle takes latest twist.”

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