Reginald M. Turner, a lawyer based in Detroit who’s also president-elect nominee of the American Bar Association, was appointed as temporary executor of Aretha Franklin’s estate last week amid an ongoing family rift which caused Franklin’s niece Sabrina Owens to resign as the original executor. Turner is a longtime friend of Franklin and was recommended by lawyers for Kecalf Franklin, Franklin’s youngest son.
Attorneys for Franklin’s eldest son, Clarence Franklin, had asked the court to appoint Andrew Mayoras, a Detroit-area probate attorney, and both Turner and Mayoras appeared in court last week to answer questions. Judge Callaghan accepted Owens’ resignation and appointed Turner for an initial term of 90 days, without citing any reason for her decision.
Family Acrimony Triggered Owens’ Resignation
When Franklin passed away in August 2018, it appeared that she didn’t leave a will and the probate of her estate seemed par for the course—with her four sons expecting the estate to be split evenly, in accordance with Michigan law. They unanimously agreed to appoint Owens as personal representative of the estate. However, in May 2019, news emerged that three handwritten wills had been found in one of her homes.
The discovery of the wills, the authenticity of which is yet to be determined, has sparked a full-blown feud with intense bickering among the sons. According to The New York Times, the discovery of the wills has caused disputes over everything from allegations about each other’s competency to who gets to drive Franklin’s Mercedes-Benz. The uncertainty of whether any of the wills will be found valid, and the contradictory language among the three documents, has fueled the fighting. If any of the wills is found valid, the estate would no longer be equally divided among the four, and each son’s share would vary drastically.
Understandably, the acrimony has taken a toll on Owens, who’s been accused of mismanagement in court documents (allegations which she has denied), causing her to file a resignation note in court, which partially states, "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 … I love my cousins, hold no animosity towards them, and wish them the best."
As noted in The New York Times, “under Michigan law, the family could bypass questions of the validity of the wills if all heirs can come to an agreement.” However, there seems to be no indication of that happening, and the family may now be headed for trial later in the year.