Aretha Franklin burst onto the worldwide music scene in the 1950s, developing a career that transcends her passing in 2018. Franklin’s voice and presence endure. But her family now deals with a stunning conundrum after the discovery of two wills. So wild is the news that a handwriting wills expert is now necessary to determine the future of her estate.
Some thought the singer, famous in part for her hit single Respect, didn’t originally leave an official will. Not only was one hidden, but another handwritten one now exists in the aftermath of her death. Hence, the need for a handwriting wills expert, to sort through:
- One locked away in a cabinet.
- The other one found under the couch.
- Ergo, it’s only natural to assess the validity of these wills.
Franklin’s siblings at war
Franklin’s children are coming to terms with their mother’s death. However, the discovery of these wills present causes that force them to face each other in court. On one side, there is Kecalf Franklin, as the sole executor of her estate. Her youngest son, Kecalf is supporting the content of one of the handwritten wills from 2014.*
This will, however, rules out an inheritance for Teddy Franklin (her other son) and her niece Sabrina Owens. In turn, this is something that the other parties hope to contest. Kecalf is supporting his claim with help from handwriting expert Erich Speckin. In turn, his goal is to prove the will was indeed the product of Franklin’s own handwriting.
Additionally, Speckin has also been brought in to rule out any tampering with the will since it was written. To that end, Speckin can employ UV forensic technology to date the inks from the will. If Speckin can confirm the will’s validity, it’s possible that both Teddy and his other brother, Clarence will return fire. A beneficiary often does this by hiring their own forensic experts to contest the result.
Bringing in the Forensic Handwriting Wills Expert
With a whole host of forensic experts on the case, the lens falls on the handwriting in these wills. If the content of these wills was not contentious, then perhaps this expertise would not be needed.
However, due to the sensitive sibling tensions involved in the battle, these forensic examinations are more important than ever. Forensic examiner Bart Baggett outlines exactly what happens when someone examines handwriting.
“I always want to see the original because you can look under a microscope and see a pen lift, a hesitation, a striation.”
If these striations match Franklin’s other handwriting, Kecalf’s claim would be hard to dispute. He goes on to say that line spacing, autographs and birthday cards help to prove or disprove whether it is indeed her writing.
Baggett adds that he “would find it shocking if the other experts found that it’s not her writing. Because there’s just a voluminous amount of it and it’s so difficult to execute such an elaborate fraud. The skill level would be amazing.”
However, it’s worth noting that Baggett himself has not had a chance to examine the wills. Shedding light on the process of this, Baggett then suggests that Speckin must present his findings to the court and await judgement.
In effect, all handwriting examination can take place under the strict supervision of a court official. That way, no findings can be subject to accusations of fabrication or ultimately deeming the expert findings to be invalid.
From there, parties will need to come to an agreement over who takes charge of Franklin’s sprawling $80 million estates. Whether Kecalf (with the support of his brother Edward); or Owens, Teddy or Clarence become sole executors of the estate remains to be seen.
As of late January 2020, Sabrina Owens is no longer the executor of Aretha Franklin’s estate. In a court filing, Owens states:
“Given my aunt’s love of family and desire for privacy, this is not what she would have wanted for us, nor is it what I want… I hope that my departure will allow the business of the estate to continue, calm the rift in my family and allow me to return to my personal life.”
Moreover, settlement of the estate itself remains up in the air. Since Owens left her post as executor, Detroit lawyer Reginald Hunter has taken charge of the estate (reportedly worth $17 million).
*To clarify, 2014 is when most believe the will was written.