Little was resolved during the half-hour hearing, the first court proceeding since Sabrina Owens announced she will be stepping down as the estate’s personal representative. Owens, a niece of Franklin, filed her resignation letter Jan. 30 in Oakland County Probate Court.
Tuesday’s hearing in Pontiac also came amid allegations by Kecalf Franklin, youngest of Aretha Franklin’s four sons, that Owens and the estate’s lead attorney, David Bennett, have mismanaged affairs since the singer’s death in August 2018.
Charlene Glover-Hogan, who represents Kecalf Franklin, has asked the court to disqualify Bennett, claiming he has not properly disclosed financial information nor secured assets such as clothing and jewelry.
LEGAL FEES QUESTIONED
Glover-Hogan has also questioned nearly $400,000 in legal fees paid by the estate to Bennett, who was Aretha Franklin’s personal attorney for three decades.
Bennett countered that Franklin’s sons signed letters authorizing him as estate attorney. He said he has been transparent about estate finances, providing the sons with records of bank accounts, investments and attorney fees.
Outside the courtroom Tuesday, Kecalf Franklin declined to elaborate on his dispute with Owens and Bennett, saying simply: “We’re getting to the bottom of everything that’s gone on since August (2018).”
A hearing on Bennett’s eligibility, originally scheduled for Feb. 19, was bumped by Judge Jennifer Callaghan to March 3, when Owens’ resignation will be ironed out. With Owens’ departure, Bennett would likely be stepping away anyway.
In court Tuesday, Glover-Hogan asked that no further fees be paid to Owens and Bennett unless first approved by the court. The judge did not rule on that request.
An attorney for Aretha Franklin’s oldest son, Clarence Franklin, opposed Glover-Hogan’s request, saying Tuesday it would be “nothing but harmful to the estate.”
But Craig Smith, a Missouri attorney representing son Edward Franklin, seemed to cast his lot with Glover-Hogan, telling the judge, “There’s been a veil of secrecy over the estate.”
SEPTEMBER TRIAL ON WILLS
Kecalf Franklin has previously petitioned to be named the estate’s personal representative, saying his late mother designated him for that role in one of three wills that surfaced last year.
A September trial has been scheduled to decide the validity of the handwritten wills.
Bennett, meanwhile, told the court Tuesday that he received a formal offer from MGM Studios late last week that would pay the estate in conjunction with the forthcoming biopic “Respect,” starring Jennifer Hudson.
He said the estate is also “close” to securing a deal with the producers of National Geographic’s “Genius,” which is rolling out an eight-part Aretha Franklin series this spring.