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Jury rules handwritten will found under Aretha Franklin's couch cushion is valid

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Aretha Franklin died in 2018, but her children have been locked in a long legal battle over her fortune since. Now, yesterday, though, a Michigan probate court decided that a four-page handwritten document can legally be considered her last will and testament. As WDET's Ryan Patrick Hooper reports, the will was found in a spiral notebook in Aretha Franklin's couch.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREEWAY OF LOVE")

ARETHA FRANKLIN: (Singing) Yeah, we're riding on the freeway of love in my pink Cadillac.

RYAN PATRICK HOOPER, BYLINE: The Queen of Soul's Cadillac - two Cadillacs, to be exact - are now set to be passed down to her youngest son, Kecalf Franklin. Her estate is valued at about $18 million, according to her lawyers. Outside the courtroom, Kecalf Franklin said the decision was a relief.

KECALF FRANKLIN: We just want to exhale right now. It's been a long five years for my family, my children.

HOOPER: His children, Aretha's only grandkids, also celebrated the decision.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yeah, sweet justice. Come on now.

HOOPER: Here's 28-year-old Jordan Franklin.

JORDAN FRANKLIN: We're just here in the name of our grandmother and her last wishes. And, you know, whatever that would have been, whether it was split up equally, whether it was 2014 will, the 2010 will, it's about her last wishes. And that's what we're happy about today.

HOOPER: The trial centered around two wills and the question of which one Aretha wanted to be honored. One, dated 2010, was found in an old cabinet in her suburban Detroit home. That one favored her son, Ted White Jr. The other one, from 2014, was found in a couch where Aretha often slept. That one gave more assets to her other son, Kecalf. But a jury on Tuesday put the confusing issue to rest.

K FRANKLIN: I think that it's a great thing.

HOOPER: Kecalf Franklin feels that his mother's final wishes have finally been fulfilled. The jury decided the 2014 will, in his favor, is the right one. His lawyers argued that it may have been found in a couch, but it's still valid and it's more recent.

K FRANKLIN: I think that she would be very happy and that she's proud right now that her wishes have been adhered to.

HOOPER: The other brother, Ted White Jr., left the courtroom quickly after the decision. He lost this battle. But he'll still inherit a third of his mother's music royalties that continue to make money. As one lawyer speculated, people will be listening to Aretha for hundreds of years.

For NPR News, I'm Ryan Patrick Hooper in Detroit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARETHA FRANKLIN SONG, "RESPECT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ryan Patrick Hooper

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