PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) — A lawyer for a son of Aretha Franklin asked a judge Tuesday to keep an eye on professional fees paid by the late singer’s estate, the latest jab in a dispute over assets left by the Queen of Soul.
Separately, the judge set a March 3 hearing on a request by Franklin’s niece to step aside as personal representative, or executor, of the estate.
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Franklin died without a formal will in August 2018. Her estate was worth an estimated $17 million last summer, although the family has been squabbling since last spring when handwritten wills were found in her home. Her heirs are her four sons, who have been divided on who should managed the estate and how the estate should be run.
A 2014 document indicates that Franklin wanted Kecalf Franklin, 49, to run her estate. A niece, Sabrina Owens, now fills the role, but she wants to give up the job, citing a “rift” in the family.
The Detroit Free Press reports that the estate has spent over 500K in total legal fees, a point of contention between Owens and Franklin’s sons. Owens has been accused of taking possession of a 2014 Mercedes-Benz and has approved film and music projects without the son’s input. The biopic “Respect” currently being shot and starring Jennifer Hudson was approved by Aretha before her death, although Kecalf has objected to some of the storyline.
Owens watched from the courtroom gallery as Kecalf Franklin’s lawyer, Charlene Glover-Hogan, asked a judge to step in and approve any legal fees for the estate’s attorneys before they’re paid.
In response, David Bennett, Franklin’s longtime attorney, said Franklin’s four sons or their lawyers had agreed that his firm would represent the estate, shortly after Aretha Franklin’s death. He denied keeping the sons in the dark.
“This is not a cash-poor estate,” Bennett said.
According to the Free Press, Glover-Hogans said that Bennett’s firm has been paid over 400K since the singer’s death. She also said Bennett’s firm is in possession of $988,000 in uncashed checks to Franklin, as well as her clothing, jewelry, furs and several cars.
Judge Jennifer Callaghan set that dispute for another day. She also ordered the parties into mediation.
Outside court, Glover-Hogan said a handwriting expert confirmed that the 2014 document, found under a living room cushion, was in Aretha Franklin’s handwriting. The admissibility of the will, however, hasn’t been determined.
“His mother knew what she was doing,” Glover-Hogan said of Kecalf Franklin’s fitness for the job of managing the estate.
Kecalf Franklin declined to talk about how he would run the estate, which includes master recordings and publishing rights.
“We just want justice to be served,” he told reporters.
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