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How much is Aretha Franklin's estate worth? Her sons' five-year legal battle over her will explained

The iconic "Respect" singer passed away in 2018, and is survived by four sons

Aretha Franklin attends her birthday celebration at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on March 22, 2015 in New York City© Getty
Beatriz Colon
Beatriz Colon - New York
New York WriterNew York
July 12, 2023
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The battle of the wills. Five years after Aretha Franklin's 2018 death, and after an hour of deliberations in court Monday, the battle over her estate between her family has been resolved.

On Tuesday, July 11, a jury at the Oakland County Probate Court determined that the root of the contentious legal battle, a 2014 handwritten will found in the late singer's couch inside her Detroit home, was an authentic and valid will from the legendary performer.

The "I Say a Little Prayer" songstress passed away on August 13, 2018 in her Riverfront Towers residence in Detroit aged 76, the cause of death later revealed as a malignant pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor (pNET), the most common form of pancreatic cancer. It was initially believed she passed without an official will.

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Franklin is survived by her four sons, Clarence Franklin, 68, Edward Franklin, 66, Ted "Teddy" White II, 59, and Kecalf Cunningham, 53. Three of the four sons were embroiled in the battle over their mother's estate.

Her third son Ted, believed a 2010 will found in his mother's cabinet should be used for their inheritance, while the second and fourth sons, Edward and Kecalf, preferred the document found in the couch – they say their mom often slept on it –  which was signed March 31, 2014. Their eldest brother, Clarence, has special needs and lives under a legal guardianship, and both documents ask of his brothers to support him financially.

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The 2014 handwritten document grants more money to Kecalf and Edward – though it still leaves Ted a portion of Franklin's music royalties, which still generate money today – while the 2010 document rules in favor of Ted.

Aretha Franklin, son Kecalf Cunningham and grandaughter Victorie Cunnigham pose backstage at the hit musical "Chicago" on Broadway at The Ambassador Theater on May 29, 2015 in New York City© Getty
Franklin with son Kecalf and grandaughter Victorie Cunnigham in 2015

The more recent will ultimately approved by the court has Ted's name scratched out for the role of executor of the estate, and instead has Kecalf. Subsequently, his kids and grandchildren get Franklin's home in the suburb of Bloomfield Hills, which at the time of her death was valued at over $1 million, as well as her cars. 

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Both documents have handwritten notes, interjections, scribbles, and scratched out phrases, which while in many states would render such wills invalid, the state of Michigan considers handwritten wills valid if they meet a certain criteria.

Aretha Franklin's son, Teddy Richards during Aretha Franklin Performs at B.B.Kings - June 25, 2004 at B.B. Kings in New York City, New York© Getty
Teddy was a guitarist for his mom's band, pictured here during a 2004 performance

According to Forbes, Franklin's estate was estimated to be worth approximately $80 million when she passed from ongoing earnings from her music catalog, royalties, and licensing, though today it is reported to be significantly less.

CBS News reports that a public accounting record showed that the estate had an income of $3.9 million during a previous 12-month period, plus nearly $1 million in legal fees. Her assets, largely cash and real estate, were estimated to be worth $4.1 million.

William Wilkerson, singer Aretha Franklin, and Edward Franklin attend BET Honors 2014 at Warner Theatre on February 8, 2014 in Washington, DC© Getty
Franklin with son Edward (right) in 2014

Following the decision in his favor, Kecalf said while at court: "I'm very, very happy. I just wanted my mother's wishes to be adhered to," adding: "We just want to exhale right now. It's been a long five years for my family, my children."

Clarence Franklin (center), son of soul music icon Aretha Franklin, mourns for his mother outside Greater Grace Temple at the end of her funeral August 31, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan© Getty
Clarence (center) at his mom's 2018 funeral; Franklin birthed him aged 12 and later revealed Edward Jordan was the father

Speaking with NBC, Don Wilson, an entertainment lawyer who worked with Franklin for nearly 30 years, said he had urged her to prepare a formal will, though she was hesitant. 

"We insisted that she have a will and a trust as part of her estate planning. But she was a very private person and I think she didn't want to share that information with another individual, such as an attorney," he explained, adding: "She went ahead and wrote them up herself."

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