'Gross mismanagement' alleged in handling of Aretha Franklin's estate
Pontiac — Aretha Franklin’s niece helped herself to the late singer’s Mercedes Benz and her long-time attorney turned in over $394,000 in legal fees this past year, according to allegations in Oakland Probate Court documents and an attorney for one of the heirs to Franklin's estate.
Those are just a couple weighty legal matters Charlene Glover-Hogan, who represents Kecalf Franklin, one of Franklin’s four sons, would like to see addressed in what she described as “gross mismanagement” by Sabrina Garrett-Owens, Aretha Franklin’s niece, who abruptly resigned last week as the estate’s personal representative.
Glover-Hogan will be in court Tuesday before Judge Jennifer Callaghan seeking a resolution to legal questions surrounding the estate of the Queen of Soul, who died Aug. 16, 2018, at the age of 76. Franklin left no will and legal battles are still being fought over her sizable estate.
According to Glover-Hogan, Garrett-Owens' resignation was overdue.
“Her aunt would be livid if she lived to see what was happening,” Glover-Hogan said. “I did read her (resignation) letter and we are glad she’s stepping aside. We proposed that over a year ago and had taken steps to force her out.”
Glover-Hogan said her client and his brothers have been seeking a full accounting of their mother’s estate for months but have had no cooperation from Garrett-Owens or her attorney, David Bennett, who had handled legal matters for Franklin for more than 30 years.
Glover-Hogan has filed a legal motion asking that a formal “account” placed into the court file by Garrett-Owens not be accepted because it fails to answer how much money Franklin had when she died; how her funds have been handled since the death; and how and to whom estate proceeds have been disbursed.
“The only people who have benefited from the estate is her and her attorney, who has filed excessive fees,” said Glover-Hogan, who has been doing estate work for more than 30 years. “We would ask questions and get partial or no response.
“The heirs have been consistently mistreated and ignored like they’re someone off the street. These are her sons. They’re entitled to that information. It’s ridiculous.”
Glover-Hogan said on Aug. 17, 2018 — the day after Franklin’s passing — the four siblings were called into Bennett’s office, where they were made to sign documents and agreed that their cousin, Garrett-Owens, would manage the estate.
“They were still mourning,” she said. “They were confused and they also trusted her to do the right thing.”
Bennett could not be reached for comment Monday. Garrett-Owens declined to comment Monday, but she defended her actions in a three-page letter filed with the court last week, writing that her aunt valued her counsel and once told her she was “worth her weight in gold.”
“Given my aunt’s love of family and desire for privacy, this is not what she would have wanted for us,” Garrett-Owens wrote to Bennett, asking him to file a formal petition to remove her as personal representative and seek a replacement.
A total of $586,566 has been paid out in legal fees from the estate, which had itemized assets of cash and property of more than $17 million, according to court records.
That figure is conservative, Glover-Hogan said, because it doesn’t take into account ongoing sales and royalties of Franklin’s vast catalog of recordings.
Bennett’s law firm, Thav Gross, is in possession of $988,000 in uncashed checks sent to Franklin, according to court records, primarily from royalties. The law firm also reportedly has Franklin’s clothing, jewelry, furs, and a fleet of cars, all of which were supposed to have been stored in a “secure, neutral location.” Glover-Hogan said.
One vehicle, a 2014 Mercedes Benz valued at $55,000, is now the property of Garrett-Owens, who signed over the title to herself and her husband, Kecalf Franklin's attorney said. She also had extensive repair work done on the vehicle, which along with auto insurance, was all paid with estate money, Glover-Hogan said.
“I thought if you have a car, repairs and insurance are your responsibility, not someone else’s or an estate,” said Glover-Hogan.
Garrett-Owens, an administrator at the University of Michigan, said in her letter that she only agreed to manage the estate providing things remained civil between her and the heirs. She wrote that handwritten wills found hidden in Franklin’s home last year had caused bad feelings among the brothers.
“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," she wrote. "I love my cousins, hold no animosity towards them, and wish them the best.”
But Glover-Hogan said Garrett-Owens cannot just walk away from the estate leaving important questions about it unanswered, including book and film projects she approved. Glover-Hogan will take a deposition from her this Friday and will depose Bennett next month.
In legal filings, Glover-Hogan has asked Callaghan to remove both Garrett-Owens and Bennett from their estate duties. Another legal issue involves a request from an attorney for another brother, Clarence Franklin, to decide the reliability of hand-written wills separate from other issues.
Glover-Hogan wants the will question, which she believes favors her client, to be resolved with other issues in one trial.