NEW YORK • Three handwritten documents purportedly prepared and signed by Aretha Franklin appear to give instructions on the fate of the late queen of soul's estate, contradicting the belief that she had left no will.
The documents obtained and published by the Detroit Free-Press newspaper on Tuesday were discovered in a spiral notebook under couch cushions in her living room, as well as in a locked cabinet that had previously been inaccessible.
The 16 pages of difficult-to-read, hand-scrawled papers, dated between 2010 and 2014, appear to distribute assets including real estate, jewellery, furs, stereo equipment and music royalties to her family members.
In the document dated June 21, 2010, the iconic singer declares herself of sound mind and health, except for "high blood pressure" and "a mass on the pancreas".
The indomitable Franklin died at 76 in August last year after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, triggering an outpouring of grief.
Her death also raised questions over the future of her assets, with her family that includes four sons - with her niece Sabrina Owens appointed as the estate's personal representative - believing she had left no will.
Franklin's long-time lawyer David Bennett filed the documents in Michigan's Oakland County probate court, saying he was unsure whether they were valid according to the Midwestern state's law. A hearing is scheduled for June 12.
"The heirs, through their counsel, have been unable to reach a resolution with each other as to the admission, validity, and dispositive provisions" of the apparent wills, the court documents read.
Rules in Michigan dictate that if no will is declared legal, the estate, reportedly valued at some US$80 million (S$110 million), will be divided equally among her four sons.
Last month, a Michigan probate court judge approved a plan for hired experts to appraise Franklin's estate, which, according to local media, says it has paid at least US$3 million in back taxes to the Internal Revenue Service since she died.
Last December, the American tax agency filed court documents saying the singer owed more than US$6 million in back taxes and some US$1.5 million in penalties.
Franklin's death in Detroit closed the curtain on a glittering six-decade career that spanned gospel, R&B, jazz, blues and classical music.