Aretha Franklin and her Four Wills

Aretha Franklin shined bright in the music world with iconic hits such as “Respect,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “I Say A Little Prayer,” and more, but the Queen of Soul was notoriously private about her personal life. In 2018, she passed away from pancreatic cancer and left behind an estate worth anywhere between $18 to $80 million.

Even without a Will or an Estate Plan, by law, her four sons – Clarence, Edward, Teddy, and Kecalf – stood to inherit her estate, each with equal shares. That could have been the end of that – until they found three handwritten Wills among her things. And, over a year later, a fourth typewritten but unsigned document surfaced.

Validity of the Wills

A Will needs to be Probated to establish its validity. With not just one but four Wills, in the nearly five years since her death, news is yet to be announced that a version of any of her Wills has been established as valid.

A handwritten Will may be considered valid, however, they must be properly executed to meet all the legal requirements. According to the filing of her fourth typewritten document (an 8-page Will and a 23-page Trust document), the singer worked with Henry M. Grix for over two years, but the document was stamped draft and left unsigned after she “fell very ill.”

What’s more is that each version of the Will expresses the singer’s different wishes on the division of her estate. This caused an ugly rift among the siblings, who are now battling it out in court over matters of her estate, including her assets, who will represent her estate, and which version of her Will should be considered valid.

Family Secrets

A Will is not the ideal document to share details pertaining to personal matters. This is because a Will has to go through Probate court and becomes a public document once filed. The paternity of Aretha’s eldest child, Clarence, whom she gave birth to at just 12 years old, has long been a mystery to many. She previously claimed it was a boy from school, but did not disclose the identity. However, this family secret was brought to light when she referred to Edward Jordan Sr. as Clarence’s father in one of her handwritten Wills. He is also the father of her second child, who was named after him.


When the IRS claimed that Aretha owed $7.8 million in unpaid income taxes, this rendered her assets inaccessible to her sons. They have since struck a deal with the government agency to slowly pay off her debt with the income from her estate. It took four years for the debt to be completely paid off. However, the estate still remains inaccessible until the Probate procedure is finished.

It’s been almost five years since the Queen of Soul’s passing, and yet the Probating of her estate has barely begun. At the outset, DIY Estate Planning may seem like a good idea to save on lawyer fees. However, in Aretha’s case, determining the validity of her Wills alone has proven to be lengthy process with no end presently in sight, which is likely costing her sons much more in lawyers and court fees.

Trust-based Estate Plan would have been beneficial in keeping her affairs out of the public eye and preventing putting brother at odds over matters of her estate, and facilitating the transfer of her sons inheritance without court involvement. She could also have provided for a professional trustee to manage trust assets and put a plan in place for Clarence’s care, who has unspecified special needs.

A trusted Estate Planning attorney can help your loved ones avoid legal complications in inheriting from your estate and ensure that your final wishes are carried out. The Law Office of Antoinette Bone, PLLC can help you navigate and address issues you and your family may face in your Estate Plan. Call us today at (682) 428-3046 to request an appointment.

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