Tuesday's verdict ends a nearly five-year legal squabble within the family. (Representation image.) Chris Ryan/Gettyimages

After a two-day trial, a Michigan jury has concluded that a document discovered in Aretha Franklin's couch following her death in 2018 is a valid will regarding her multi-million-dollar estate.

The trial involved a dispute between Franklin's children over two handwritten versions of her final wishes.

Attorneys representing two of Franklin's sons argued that their half-brother, Ted White, intended to exclude them from their rightful inheritance.

The verdict, reached on Tuesday, brings an end to a nearly five-year-long legal conflict within the family.

When Franklin passed away from pancreatic cancer, it was widely believed that she had not prepared a will specifying the distribution of her assets, including approximately $6 million worth of real estate, cash, gold records, furs, and music copyrights.

However, nine months later, her niece Sabrina Owens, who was serving as the estate's executor at the time, discovered two separate handwritten sets of documents at Franklin's Detroit residence.

One version, dated June 2010, was found in a locked desk drawer alongside record contracts and other paperwork.

The other version, dated March 2014, was located within a spiral notebook containing Franklin's sketches, tucked beneath the cushions of the living room sofa.

In Pontiac, a panel of six jurors was entrusted with the task of determining the validity of the latter document as a will, reaching a verdict in less than an hour.

The core of the dispute revolves around the divergences between the two documents regarding the inheritance of the legendary soul singer's four children.

According to the now-validated will, Franklin's three sons would evenly divide her music royalties and bank funds, while her youngest child, Kecalf, and his offspring would inherit her primary residence—a gated mansion with a recent valuation of $1.2 million (£928,000).

On the other hand, the 2010 document proposes a more balanced distribution of Franklin's assets but includes a requirement that Kecalf and another son, Edward, must pursue business education and attain a certificate or degree to benefit from the estate.

Kecalf and Edward have contended that the newer document nullifies the intentions outlined in the older one, whereas their half-brother Ted argued otherwise.

During the proceedings, Kecalf took the witness stand and testified that his mother frequently conducted business affairs on the couch, stating that it did not strike him as unusual for a will to be discovered there.

During closing arguments on Tuesday, his lawyer argued the nature of the notebook's discovery was "inconsequential".

"You can take your will and leave it on the kitchen counter," said Charles McKelvie. "It's still your will."

And Edward's lawyer, Craig Smith, highlighted the document's first line - "To whom it may concern and being of sound mind, I write my will and testimony" - to argue their mother was "speaking from the grave".

"Teddy wants to disinherit his two brothers," he alleged. "Teddy wants it all."

Clarence, the eldest child of Franklin who resides in assisted housing under guardianship, did not participate in the dispute. As part of a pre-trial agreement between his brothers and his guardian, Clarence will receive an undisclosed portion of the estate, BBC reported.

Research indicates that over 70% of black Americans do not have wills, partly due to historical mistrust in the US legal system and concerns regarding the seizure of black-owned property.

In the cases of other notable musicians like Prince and James Brown, it took several years to resolve disputes over their estates.

At the time of her passing, Franklin's fortune was estimated to be $80 million, but more recent assessments and years of unpaid taxes have significantly diminished that amount.

Nicholas Papasifakis, the current personal representative of Franklin, has stated his commitment to abide by the court's decision and distribute her assets accordingly.

Kecalf Franklin said: "I'm very, very happy. I just wanted my mother's wishes to be adhered to. We just want to exhale right now. It's been a long five years for my family, my children."

Although he did not appear to speak with his brother Ted in the courtroom, he added: "I love my brother with all my heart."

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