Aretha Franklin’s sons have been awarded ownership of her former homes, thanks to a will that was discovered between couch cushions.
The decision came four months after a jury said the document was valid despite being hard to read.
Franklin had signed it with a smiley face inside the letter “A”.
The papers, which date to 2014, overrule a separate, handwritten will from 2010 that was found at Franklin’s Detroit home in 2019, the judge said.
The decision was a victory for Franklin’s youngest son, Kecalf, as the later document suggested the star, who did not leave a formal will, wanted him to assume control over her estate.
He and his children will now receive her gated mansion in suburban Detroit, which was valued at $1.1 million (£870,000) in 2018, but is now worth more.
A lawyer described it as the “crown jewel” of Franklin’s real estate portfolio last year.
OAKLAND COUNTY PROBATE COURT: The 2014 will includes the quote “…being of sound mind, I write my will and testimony”
Another son, Ted White II, who favoured the 2010 will, was given another house in Detroit – although it was sold by the Franklin estate for $300,000 (£236,500) before the competing wills were discovered.
“Teddy is requesting the sale proceeds,” his lawyer said on Tuesday.
Judge Jennifer Callaghan awarded a third son, Edward Franklin, another property under the 2014 will.
Franklin’s fourth home, which is also worth more than $1m (£790,000), is expected to be sold, with the proceeds shared by her 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,” Charles McKelvie, an attorney for Kecalf, told the Associated Press news agency, after the ruling.
When Franklin died from pancreatic cancer in August 2018, it was widely believed she had not prepared a will to distribute ownership of roughly $6m (£4.6m) in real estate, cash, gold records and furs, or to her music copyrights.
But, nine months later, her niece Sabrina Owens – the estate’s executor at the time – discovered two separate sets of handwritten documents at the singer’s home in Detroit.
One version, dated June 2010, was found inside a locked desk drawer, along with record contracts and other documents.
A newer version, from March 2014, was found within a spiral notebook containing Franklin’s doodles wedged beneath the living room sofa cushions.
All of Franklin’s sons agreed the 2010 document was valid, but argued over whether Franklin had actually signed the 2014 document.
Both documents indicated that Franklin wanted her four sons to split the income from her music and copyrights, but other areas contained notable differences.
In the 2014 document, Franklin appeared to bequeath the $1.1m (£870,000) home to Kecalf, while the 2010 will divided her assets more evenly between her heirs.
In court, Kecalf testified that his mother often handled business on the couch and it “doesn’t strike me as odd” that a will had been found there.
Ted, who was his mother’s touring guitarist, told the trial that Franklin would have written a will “conventionally and legally” rather than by “freehand”.
His lawyer argued that the 2010 will was under lock and key in the house rather than under the cushions.
In the end, however, a jury agreed that the later will superseded the 2010 document, reaching their decision in under an hour.
Franklin’s eldest child Clarence, who lives in assisted housing under a guardianship, was not involved in the dispute.
He will receive an undisclosed percentage of the estate in a pre-trial agreement reached between his brothers and his guardian.
There is still a dispute over how to handle Franklin’s music assets. A status conference with the judge is set for January.
Franklin was one of the biggest names in soul and R&B for decades, recording indelible hits like Respect, I Say A Little Prayer, Rock Steady and Think.