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Judge cites handwritten will and awards real estate to Aretha Franklin's sons

Judge Jennifer Callaghan listens as attorney Charles McKelvie, left, delivers closing arguments during a jury trial over Aretha Franklin's wills at Oakland County Probate Court in Pontiac, Mich., on Tuesday, July 11, 2023. (Sarahbeth Maney/Detroit Free Press via AP, File) Judge Jennifer Callaghan listens as attorney Charles McKelvie, left, delivers closing arguments during a jury trial over Aretha Franklin's wills at Oakland County Probate Court in Pontiac, Mich., on Tuesday, July 11, 2023. (Sarahbeth Maney/Detroit Free Press via AP, File)
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DETROIT -

A judge overseeing the estate of Aretha Franklin awarded real estate to the late star's sons, citing a handwritten will from 2014 that was found between couch cushions.

The decision Monday came four months after a Detroit-area jury said the document was a valid will under Michigan law, despite scribbles and many hard-to-read passages. Franklin had signed it and put a smiley face in the letter "A."

The papers will override a handwritten will from 2010 that was found at Franklin's suburban Detroit home around the same time in 2019, the judge said.

One of her sons, Kecalf Franklin, will get that property, which was valued at US$1.1 million in 2018, but is now worth more. A lawyer described it as the "crown jewel" before trial last July.

Another son, Ted White II, who had favored the 2010 will, was given a house in Detroit, though it was sold by the estate for US$300,000 before the dueling wills had emerged.

"Teddy is requesting the sale proceeds," Charles McKelvie, an attorney for Kecalf Franklin, said Tuesday.

Judge Jennifer Callaghan awarded a third son, Edward Franklin, another property under the 2014 will.

Aretha Franklin had four homes when she died of pancreatic cancer in 2018. The discovery of the two handwritten wills months after her death led to a dispute between the sons over what their mother wanted to do with her real estate and other assets.

One of the properties, worth more than US$1 million, will likely be sold and the proceeds shared by four sons. The judge said the 2014 will didn't clearly state who should get it.

"This was a significant step forward. We've narrowed the remaining issues," McKelvie said of the estate saga.

There's still a dispute over how to handle Aretha Franklin's music assets, though the will appears to indicate that the sons would share any income. A status conference with the judge is set for January.

Franklin was a global star for decades, known especially for hits in the late 1960s like "Think," "I Say a Little Prayer" and "Respect."

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