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Aretha Franklin’s Niece Resigns as Estate Executor

Sabrina Owens cites mounting tensions, rifts among the Queen of Soul’s heirs

Aretha Franklin's niece, Sabrina Owens (pictured), has resigned as executor of the late singer's estate, citing growing rifts among the family.

Rachel Murray/Getty Images

Aretha Franklin’s niece, Sabrina Owens, has resigned as executor of the late soul singer’s estate amid mounting family tensions, the Detroit Free Press reports.

Owens announced her decision in court filings last week, writing: “Given my aunt’s love of family and desire for privacy, this is not what she would have wanted for us, nor is it what I want… 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.”

Franklin died in August 2018, and, because she reportedly left no will, Michigan law stipulated that her assets be divided equally among her four sons. Franklin’s sons agreed upon Owens as executor, but new factions and tensions emerged last May after three wills allegedly penned by Franklin were found in a notebook under some couch cushions.

“That is when relationships began to deteriorate with the heirs,” Owens wrote of the discovery of the wills. She added that she accepted the executor role on the conditions that “no fractured relationships develop within the family” and that the family “did not end up in court disputes over disagreements with the Estate.” Both, Owens wrote, have occurred.

Owens’ resignation, however, will not be effective immediately, and she will continue to serve as executor for the immediate future. It’s also unclear who will be appointed executor after she does leave.

Franklin’s youngest son, Kecalf Franklin, has tried to gain control since one of the documents, dated 2014, seems to suggest Franklin wanted him to take on that role (in August a judge approved Kecalf’s request to have a handwriting expert analyze the found documents). While Kecalf has the support of his brother Edward, his efforts are opposed by Franklin’s third son, Ted White, as well as the guardian for her eldest son, Clarence, who has special needs.

A hearing on the future of the estate is scheduled for March 3rd.

The ongoing tensions surrounding Franklin’s estate continue as it preps for two major posthumous projects: a biopic starring Jennifer Hudson, Respect, and an installment in the biographical anthology series, Genius, with Cynthia Erivo playing Franklin (both are currently in production).

In the last year, Owens, as executor, oversaw the release of the the documentary, Amazing Grace, while also managing the estate’s tangled finances, including $6.3 million owed to the IRS in back taxes.