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RESPECT – The Story Of The Aretha Franklin Will

After more than four years of family dispute over the estate of Aretha Franklin, a Michigan jury ruled that a handwritten document found under a cushion of Ms. Franklin’s couch was a valid will. 

Aretha Franklin: Death and Will

Aretha Franklin, a legendary singer, songwriter, and pianist, died on August 16, 2018 at the age of 76 from pancreatic cancer. At the time of her death, Ms. Franklin was thought not to have a will. In May of 2019, the family of Ms. Franklin located two handwritten wills in her Detroit home. Found inside a spiral notebook under couch cushions, the latest will was dated March of 2014, and appeared to give assets to family members. However, the latest will contained scratched out portions and indecipherable handwriting throughout. The second will was from 2010 and found locked in a cabinet. 

Distribution Of Allowances To Aretha Franklin’s Children

The two wills put the children of Ms. Franklin at odds due to the differing terms and distributions. Specifically, the 2010 will provided for weekly and monthly allowances to each of Ms. Franklin’s sons, and stipulated that sons, Kelcalf and Edward, “take business classes and get a certificate or a degree” to inherit from Ms. Franklin’s estate. The 2014 will provided that sons, Kelcalf, Edward, and Teddy, would receive equal shares of Ms. Franklin’s music royalties, and that Kelcalf and his children would receive Ms. Franklin’s primary residence and cars. After years in the court system, the case finally concluded in July of 2023 when a jury ruled in favor of the 2014 will. 

Is A Handwritten Will Legal?

Michigan, like Pennsylvania, is a state that recognizes a handwritten or “holographic” will as legally permissible. According to the Pennsylvania code, all wills must be in writing and signed by the maker or “testator” of the will. There is no requirement that wills must be typed. 

However, it is largely the decision of the probate court of the county in which you die to determine whether or not your handwritten will is valid. It is important to have in place a valid will that reflects your wishes. If you die without a will, the state may determine how your property is distributed and its determination may not align with your wishes. 

If you do not have a will, or you have a handwritten will that you would like reviewed by an experienced estate planning attorney, please contact Grace C. Nguyen Bond at or (717) 509-7226, Trisha Lantz at or (717) 509-7210, or Charles H. Rieck, IV at or (717) 509-7275.

* This article is provided for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or as creating an attorney-client relationship where one does not already exist. *