ARETHA FRANKLIN ESTATE BATTLE CBS NEWS WITH DANIELLE MAYORAS
Danielle recently sat down with CBS News to discuss the current estate battle over Aretha Franklin’s wills. Will her 2010 will stand—or the 2014 document found after her death under some couch cushions? What will a jury decide?
CBS: You’re watching CBS News Detroit. Welcome back. A jury has been seated in a trial to determine the will of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. Franklin died in Detroit in 2018 at the age of 78, and just months later, family members say they found two handwritten wills in couch cushions. Franklin’s sons are arguing over which of the wills should be applied to the estate, one dated in 2010, or a second dated in 2014, which was found in the cushions of a couch.
Both documents appear to indicate the sons should share the money from the music and copyrights, but they differ on who would be the estate executor. Danielle Mayoras, estate attorney with Barron, Rosenberg, Mayoras and Mayoras, is joining us to discuss this and the trial. Thank you so much for being here tonight. We appreciate your time.
Danielle: Thank you for having me.
CBS: So let’s get right into this. Aretha Franklin’s sons are fighting over that handwritten wills found in couch cushions. Can any of these be considered here in Michigan?
Danielle: They can, but the 2014 document is not necessarily a will. And so that’s what this jury trial is about. It’s a handwritten document, but there’s a question if it is a will because in order to be a valid will in Michigan, it needs to be in someone’s handwriting—signed and dated by them, and they need to intend it to be a will. And there’s a lot of questions around that.
CBS: So, it doesn’t have to be notarized; just as long as it’s your handwriting, your signature, it will count?
Danielle: If you intend it to be a will, Michigan is one of the states with an exception that you can actually write your own will. You don’t need to work with an attorney like me—although I recommend that, so you don’t end up like Aretha Franklin!
CBS: How do you prove intent? I’m sure you haven’t seen the actual will in question here, but how do you prove intent if I simply scribble something and sign?
Danielle: That’s precisely what Aretha did; she scribbled something. I have seen the 2014 document, and it is unbelievable. There are scribbles, there are blanks, and there’s even something that says fill in. She has things crossed out on the document, so is the intent for it to be a will…? Sometimes it’s evident because you sign and date the last page and say I intend this to be my will.
And in the 2014 document, she did say at the beginning that she was writing a will. So we’ll see what happens in the jury trial.
CBS: I’m not saying I know this from personal experience. But back in high school, I could master my parents handwriting pretty well. How can you prove that Aretha even wrote that?
Danielle: Well, they’ll have a handwriting expert, which is a given. We know that they’ll have an expert. There is something on the last page, or almost the last page, of the 2014 document where she did sign Franklin, and it’s a smiley face, but it’s not her full signature. It’s not her full name.
CBS: So, you have seen these documents, at least in 2014. How do you see this playing out? With your expertise, where do you see this going here? It’s obviously an awful situation the family’s been dealing with since she died. Five years later, where do you see this going?
Danielle: I think it’s a roll of the dice. And anytime someone goes to court, like a family like the Franklins, that is what happens. The issue with the 2014 document is even though it’s in her handwriting, and she seems to say at the beginning it’s a will, it looks like it maybe is a draft because there are blanks—as I said, things crossed off, and it’s unclear. Did she intend this to be a will? And if she did, why is it on a spiral notebook stuffed in some, you know, couch cushions? Why didn’t she tell somebody about it or put it in a locked drawer like she did with the 2010 will?
CBS: Right, and with them already having decided that the money, for the most part, will be split, what will they argue in court? What does being the executor? What does it mean for either one of them?
Danielle: That’s a great question. It’s not just about being the executor. One of the significant issues is her home in Bloomfield Hills. When she died, the Turtle Pond home was valued at over a million dollars. And the difference between the 2010 document and the 2014 version is who receives that home. So there’s a big fight over that. That’s a big portion of the estate. Although perhaps not the most significant share considering what she can bring in in the coming years…what the estate will receive.
CBS: Is it shocking that somebody as famous as Aretha Franklin did not have her affairs in order here—and it’s left up to her kids, years later, still fighting over her estate?
Danielle: It’s surprising in some ways, but not others because two-thirds of Americans don’t have a simple will. You would think that, given her notoriety and all of her intellectual property, she would have done that. And in 2018, there was a document drafted by a law firm, but she never signed it. A lot of celebrities and other individuals, unfortunately, have a distrust of attorneys. Maybe she couldn’t make up her mind like so many people, and she was just trying to get it just right. Who knows.
CBS: At the end of the day, does this all come down to money? Do you think?
Danielle: I think, in this case, that’s what it’s coming down to. It’s coming down to money and control over the estate. Who’s going to manage it as the executor?
CBS: Yeah. Wow, Danielle, thank you so much for joining us. That’s some confusing stuff.
Danielle: Thank you so much.