PONTIAC, Mich. — (DETROIT FREE PRESS) —
Aretha Franklin voicemails revealed in court as estate battle takes latest twist
Thursday brought one of the most dramatic courtroom moments so far in Aretha Franklin’s long-running estate saga, as a judge heard 20 minutes of newly uncovered voicemails left by the Detroit star shortly before her death.
In the May 2018 messages, the singer rattles off her desired adjustments to a will document recently drafted by a Troy attorney she had enlisted for estate planning. Though Franklin is heard saying she’d like to arrange an office visit “to finish this,” that day of voicemails turned out to be her last communication with the attorney, and the eight-page document remained unsigned when she died that August.
The voicemails made for a gripping, voice-from-the-grave scene Thursday in the courtroom of Oakland County Probate Judge Jennifer Callaghan: Attorneys for Franklin’s four sons gathered at the judge’s bench as audio was streamed from a laptop computer, while three of the sons listened on from the gallery.
The 2018 draft, prepared by attorney Henry Grix of Troy’s Dickinson Wright firm, is one of three will documents in play as the judge considers how Franklin’s estate will be distributed among the four sons and other heirs.
The Grix document was filed to the court in 2021 by Ted White II, the second youngest of Franklin’s sons. It followed the appearance of two handwritten wills, penned by the singer in 2010 and 2014 and found tucked away in her home after her death.
White’s attorney, Kurt Olson, argued Thursday that the drafted will, along with the fine-tuning requested by Franklin via the voicemails and a letter, indicates “she was intending that to be her final wishes.” White, a musician professionally known as Teddy Richards, briefly took the stand and made the same point while confirming that was his mother’s voice on the voicemails.
Photo credit: Jared Henderson, Detroit Free Press
About Lippitt O’Keefe
Based in southeastern Michigan, Lippitt O’Keefe PLLC is a full-service law firm providing experienced, client-focused legal counsel and advocacy. Founded by Norman Lippitt and Brian O’Keefe, the firm’s legal team today includes Kurt Olson, Anne Cubera Lipp, Marc K. Shaye, and Kim Stout.
The firm’s areas of expertise include commercial and business litigation; appellate court practice; business and corporate law; mergers and acquisitions; intellectual property law; civil litigation; divorce and family law; real estate law; technology law; personal asset and estate planning and protection; municipal law; bankruptcy law; dispute resolution; entertainment law, and medical issues related to substance abuse.