Aretha Franklin did not leave a will or a trust; so her four sons recently filed court documents indicating interest in their deceased mother’s reportedly $80 million estate.
According to The Detroit Free Press, the matter will be resolved in Oakland County Probate Court, where Franklin’s estate has been assigned to Judge Jennifer Callaghan. Franklin’s niece Sabrina Owens asked the court to appoint her as personal representative of the estate.
Like the estate of Pop Star Michael Jackson became public after he died of cardiac arrest in 2009, (although he left a will), and the estate of Whitney Houston made headlines, although she also left a will, the lack of a will could make Franklin’s finances public. It could also launch a court battle over Franklin’s assets. Creditors or relatives could seek a portion of her estate. Experts said the absence of a will means Franklin’s finances will probably become public and possibly controversial.
Los Angeles attorney Don Wilson, who represented Franklin for nearly 30 years, recently told The Detroit Free Press, “I was after her for a number of years to do a trust. It would have expedited things and kept them out of probate, and kept things private. I just hope it doesn’t end up getting so hotly contested. Any time they don’t leave a trust or will, there always ends up being a fight.”
In Michigan, the assets of a deceased person who was unmarried are divided equally among children, but others – creditors or extended family members – could contest the estate.
Franklin’s four children – Clarence, 63, Edward, 61, Ted, 54, and Kecalf, 48 – filed the court documents.
Franklin’s real estate holdings alone make her a multimillionaire, but it’s hard to measure her net worth without knowing her debts and the value of the rights she retained to the music recordings that made her famous.
Franklin’s longtime attorney, Wilson said the singer owned rights to her original compositions, which include well-known hits such as “Think” and “Rock Steady.”
In some cases, Franklin negotiated a portion of the copyright to songs written by others, he said.
“In exchange for her recording it, she got a piece of the copyright,” Wilson said.
Wilson said Franklin’s catalog hasn’t been appraised.
“It’s difficult to really assess what the value of that catalog is,” he said. “Catalogs are sold at a multiple of net earnings and that multiple can range anywhere from 10 times to 20 times.”
However, other stars have left wills, including pop star Michael Jackson who died at age 50, June 25, 2009 but left certain members of his family out of his will.
Three years after Jackson died, in August 2012, Forbes magazine obtained a copy of (one of four wills) that Michael Jackson wrote. Forbes obtained the will from the Los Angeles Superior Court but also separately viewed three previous versions of the will.
“All … .are remarkably consistent and serve to confirm the boring reality: The will is in no real danger of being overturned, and even if it were, it would be replaced by a virtually identical previous version,” Forbes noted.
The point is Jackson’s 1995 will names John Branca, Bert Mitchell, and Marshall Gelfand as co-executors. Like all subsequent versions of the will, it specifies that the King of Pop’s interests be placed in an entity known as the Michael Jackson Family Trust, which stipulates the following distribution: 20 percent to charity, and the remainder split between a lifetime trust for Michael’s mother, Katherine Jackson, and a trust for any children Michael might have. Upon Katherine’s death, any remaining funds would revert to the children.
Michael’s father Joseph was left out of all four wills. He unsuccessfully challenged the will in the months following his son’s death.
Jackson’s estate generated roughly half a billion dollars in the three years after the King of Pop died, thanks to numerous deals including a $60 million advance for the film This Is It, a new recording contract worth up to $250 million and the Michael Jackson Immortal World Tour, a joint venture with Cirque du Soleil that has already grossed over $75 million in the first half of 2012 according to Pollstar, more than any other North American concert tour.
Whitney Houston who died at age 48 on Feb. 11, 2012 left a will. Her estate was worth an estimated $20 million. Her estate increased substantially from music sales after her death. Under the terms of her will, the estate was left to Bobbi Kristina but doled out in installments once she reached certain ages.
In the event Bobbi Kristina died childless and unmarried before 30, Whitney’s will called for the estate to go to her mother, gospel star Cissy Houston and her two brothers. Whitney’s sister-in-law, Pat Houston, took over as the executor of the estate at Cissy Houston’s request.
After Houston’s death, her music sales soared: Her catalog of songs and albums sold nearly 1 million copies in one day after she died.
From the day of her death through the week ending Feb. 2, 2017, total album sales reached nearly 4 million, 3.7 million to be exact, according to Nielson Music.
Houston’s daughter died in hospice care at the age of 22. She died from lobar pneumonia on July 26, 2015 after being in a coma for nearly six months.
By Rosaland Tyler
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