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Aretha Franklin Died Without a Will, Court Documents Show

Legendary singer Aretha Franklin died without leaving behind a will or trust, according to court documents filed by her sons that were cited by the Detroit Free Press.

In the document, her four sons list themselves as interested parties, and another document filed with the court and signed by her son Kecalf, and her estate attorney, David Bennett, check a box acknowledging the absence of a will, according to the report. The singer’s niece, Sabrina Owens, asked the court to appoint her as personal representative of the estate. A rep for the late singer did not immediately respond to Variety’s request for comment or confirmation.

Frankin died on Aug. 16 in her hometown of Detroit after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

“I was after her for a number of years to do a trust,” attorney Don Wilson, who was Franklin’s entertainment attorney for nearly 30 years, told the paper. “It would have expedited things and kept them out of probate, and kept things private.”

While Franklin did not preside over a business empire as vast and complex as that of Prince, who died in 2016 apparently without leaving a will, her holdings are likely substantial. Wilson said she retained ownership of her original composition, which include hit songs such as “Think” and “Rock Steady.” While Wilson said it’s impossible to place a value on her catalog, those songs and others were hits at the time of their release and will generate significant income in the months after her death.

Prince’s estate has been embroiled in long, complicated and costly legal battles over the ownership of his holdings, as multiple claims came forward before six heirs were determined (Prince was unmarried and had no children at the time of his death). Those heirs frequently split into two camps over business decisions, complicating an already complex process as the estate has worked to capitalize on the musician’s work and holdings in the years after his death. The disorder of Prince’s business affairs left his executors scrambling to cut deals before a nine-figure estate tax bill came due early in 2017, and one of those deals, a $31 million recorded-music pact with Universal, was later rescinded after disputes over ownership over some of the material.

By contrast, David Bowie, who died in 2016 after a long bout with cancer, had spent many years buttoning up his estate and catalog with a longtime business manager — even removing certain songs from his official catalog — and an orderly reissue campaign was already underway at the time of his death.

Under Michigan law, the assets of an unmarried person who dies without a will are divided equally among any children.

“I just hope [Franklin’s estate] doesn’t end up getting so hotly contested” as that of Ike Turner, Wilson said of another complicated case. “Any time they don’t leave a trust or will, there always ends up being a fight.”

“Nobody likes to give careful thought to their own demise,” he said.

Franklin’s funeral is scheduled for Aug. 31 at Greater Grace Temple in Detoir, following public viewings at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History (Aug. 28-29) and New Bethel Baptist Church (Aug. 30).

 

 

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