Why Aretha Franklin’s Niece Resigned From Her Estate

Almost two years after legendary soul singer Aretha Franklin’s death, her estate can’t seem to come to an agreement. Just recently, her estate, along with family members, have spoken out against the upcoming biopic starring American Idol alum, Jennifer Hudson. There have also been issues regarding large financial debts Franklin owed at the time of her death. Franklin’s niece has been managing the estate but recently announced that she’s stepping down. 

Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin 1992 | Paul Natkin/Getty Images

What has been happening with Aretha Franklin’s estate since her death?

The battle over the late singer’s estate has been brewing since her death due to the assumption that Franklin did not leave a will. Franklin’s niece, Sabrina Owens, who is a university administrator, was appointed as the executor. 

Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin 1969 | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Under Owens’s management, the estate earned $1.1 million from the documentary, Amazing Grace. She also rectified looming debts of her aunt’s, including a $6.3 million bill owed to the IRS in back taxes. Reports revealed that Franklin did not have an accounting system set in place at the time of her death. The Root reported that Franklin once left $750,000 of uncashed checks stashed in her purse. 

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Franklin’s sons have been in opposition to the way Owens has run the estate, including not backing the release of Amazing Grace. 

Aretha Franklin’s niece reveals why she resigned from her estate

The Jasmine Brand shared that Owens has officially put in her two-weeks notice to step down as an executive representative of Franklin’s estate. She submitted a formal letter explaining why she is choosing to resign.

Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin 1968 | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

While Owens has done a lot in her role, she claims things began to shift once three handwritten wills were discovered in Franklin’s home by her estate attorneys. Prior to the discovery, her estimated $80 million estate was left unsettled due to the belief that Franklin did not leave a will. Once the letters were found, issues arose according to Owens.

“That is when relationships began to deteriorate with the heirs,” she wrote. “My primary goal was to honor my aunt by handling her business professionally, fairly and within the law. In spite of my best efforts, my role with the estate has become more contentious with the heirs.”

Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin 1968 | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Owens also revealed that she was aware of Franklin’s health battles and found out about her cancer diagnosis through Franklin’s doctor. She says that six months prior to Franklin’s death, the singer entrusted Owens to begin making arrangements for her funeral. Their close relationship led to Owens being charged with managing her estate after Franklin’s death. Two of the three written wills were dated 2010 – with the other dated for 2014. One allegedly reads that Franklin suggested one of her son’s to control her estate in the event of her death – something Owens attorney has fought strongly against.

Despite her resignation, Owens says there is no ill will towards her family. “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,” she ended. “I love my cousins, hold no animosity towards them, and wish them the best.”

Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin 2015 | Jon Pack/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

Owens will continue as the estate’s executor until the position is filled elsewhere. The first scheduled court hearing regarding the estate is March 3rd.