Aretha Franklin's son: 'We are making progress' on estate
Pontiac — Attorneys in the Aretha Franklin estate case appeared Tuesday before Oakland Probate Judge Jennifer Callaghan on several legal motions, all of which were adjourned until a hearing next month.
After about an hour of discussion, they left the courtroom empty-handed but optimistic that Callaghan would help sort out matters in the weeks ahead, including the appointment of an interim or permanent personal representative to manage the estate.
“I have a lot of questions that need to be answered,” said Charlene Glover-Hogan, attorney for Kecalf Franklin, one of the late singer’s four sons.
Kecalf Franklin has been unhappy with film, book and recording projects regarding his mother following her death that have done without his consultation or involvement from him or his siblings, his attorney said. Outside the courtroom Tuesday, Franklin said he was pleased at the way the estate case is unfolding.
“I feel like we are making progress and getting our side heard in the estate,” he told reporters. “We are getting to the bottom of everything that has gone wrong and want the judge to have the information. We just want the truth to be told."
Glover-Hogan plans to take depositions under oath from the estate’s current personal representative and Franklin’s niece, Sabrina Garrett-Owens, who resigned last week, and also Franklin’s longtime attorney, David Bennett.
At issue is the still-to-be determined financial assets of the legendary singer, who died in August 2018 at the age of 76 without a known will of how her estate, estimated at more than $17 million, should be divided.
Franklin was single and her primary heirs are her four sons, who have filed legal challenges over who should manage the financial affairs after three handwritten wills were found hidden in various parts of Franklin’s home by Garrett-Owens.
Garrett-Owens had been tapped by Franklin for advice a few years before her death. A day after Franklin passed away, her sons all met in Bennett’s office and at his urging, signed agreements putting Garrett-Owens in charge of the estate, Glover-Hogan said.
Last week, Garrett-Owens resigned, blaming bickering between her and the sons. She was in Callaghan’s courtroom Tuesday but did not participate in the proceedings, other than to confer briefly with Bennett in the galley. Earlier this week, Garrett-Owens declined to discuss her resignation or the case.
In an interview with The News this week, Glover-Hogan said Garrett-Owens and Bennett are both responsible for “gross mismanagement” of Franklin’s estate and have both benefited from it.
She said Garrett-Owens took possession of Franklin’s 2014 Mercedes Benz, valued at $55,000, and made repairs and paid auto insurance on the vehicle from estate funds. Garrett-Owens also approved and even acted as a producer in some projects utilizing Franklin’s likeness and musical legacy, including film and recordings, without input from the sons, according to Glover-Hogan.
Bennett’s law firm has recorded “excessive bills” to the estate, nearing $400,000 in the past year, Glover-Hogan said. She wants Callaghan to remove both Garrett-Owens and Bennett from any handling of the estate’s finances.
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 Bennett, a claim Bennett disputed Tuesday.
Glover-Hogan has filed a motion asking that an annual “account” placed into the court file by Garrett-Owens not be accepted because it fails to answers how much money Franklin had when she died in August 2018; how her funds have been handled since the death; and how they have been disbursed.
She also wants Callaghan's approval for any future expenditures by Bennett or whomever is appointed as personal representative.
Callaghan did not act on the request, which is expected to be addressed at a March 3 hearing. Several attorneys present said they had just learned of the resignation on Tuesday and needed time to properly respond.
Bennett did not return a call to The News for comment this week and told Callaghan on Tuesday that all of the heirs or their attorneys had received notice and copies of all expenditures. Glover-Hogan disputed the claim, alleging she has twice visited Bennett’s office and was denied financial records or received only part the the information she requested.
Court records show $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. 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 royalties. The law firm also reportedly has 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.
Franklin did not leave a formal will, setting up a dispute that is still to be worked out in court. Garrett-Owens, an administrator at the University of Michigan, said 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, two of whom are named as the person most equipped to handle fiscal affairs. Neither will has been authenticated.