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Clarence Franklin | Aretha Franklin | Source: Getty Images
Clarence Franklin | Aretha Franklin | Source: Getty Images

Why Aretha Franklin's Son with Special Needs Might Get Nothing from Her Will – Explanations

Edduin Carvajal
Jan 12, 2024
10:15 A.M.

Clarence Franklin is Aretha Franklin's eldest son with unspecified special needs who might not get anything from her after her passing. She gave birth to him at 12.

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Raising a child is never easy. Doing so as a teenager is even harder. But having a kid at 12 is nothing short of demanding, and the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, knew it firsthand.

It's been years since she died from cancer, but her four children are still arguing over her estate. Her eldest son, Clarence Franklin, was diagnosed with mental illness and might get nothing.

Aretha Franklin photographed in 1960 | Source: Getty images.

Aretha Franklin photographed in 1960 | Source: Getty images.

Born in March 1942, Aretha was one of the world's most respected and successful American musicians for over six decades, but her life got complicated at a very young age.

In 1955, just before turning 13, she gave birth to her first son, Clarence. Aretha named her son after her dad, a successful minister named Clarence LaVaughn Franklin, who frequently went by C.L.

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Clarence Franklin (center) surrounded by attendees at Aretha Franklin's funeral on August 31, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan | Source: Getty Images

Clarence Franklin (center) surrounded by attendees at Aretha Franklin's funeral on August 31, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan | Source: Getty Images

Aretha's unplanned pregnancy must have been challenging to process, but C.L. and the rest of Aretha's family didn't turn their backs on her. Instead, they supported her as much as possible. The Queen of Soul's older sister, Erma — a talented singer nominated for a Grammy — once admitted that Aretha returned to school right after Clarence was born.

She added that her parents didn't see her teen pregnancy as a reason to stop following her professional dreams. Instead, they proved that her son (and the rest of the kids of Aretha's siblings) would receive care and love.

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Erma explained: "It was also understood that our future as women – our education and our career – would not be compromised because of these early births." C.L. always recognized that his kids had inherited his psychological force and did everything he could to encourage their ambition. He never saw his daughters as housewives but as stars.

For years, everybody believed Clarence's dad was Donald Burke, a young man Aretha knew from her school years. Aretha and Burke used to hang out at the Arcadia, a roller-skating rink she and her sisters frequently visited.

In 2019, though, Aretha's family discovered three handwritten wills that included the identity of Clarence's real dad: Edward Jordan Sr., the father of Aretha's second son, Edward Jr.

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Aretha hinted in her will that Edward Sr. was an absentee father, as she requested he should never receive or handle Clarence's money or properties because he never contributed to his welfare.

Clarence followed in his famous mother's footsteps and wrote some songs Aretha sang. He was diagnosed with an undisclosed mental illness, lived in different assisted living facilities, and Aretha reportedly made "special provisions" for him.

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As of August 2019, Clarence lived in a group home outside Detroit, but his current whereabouts and occupation are unknown. Apart from Clarence, Aretha had three more sons: Edward Jr., born in 1957 when Aretha was 14; Ted Jr., born in 1964 during her marriage to Ted White; and Kecalf Cunningham, born in 1970 during her relationship with tour manager Ken Cunningham.

For years, Clarence, Kecalf, and Edward Jr. were very close as they grew up in the same household in Detroit. When Clarence moved into the assisted living facilities, their relationship fell apart. Ted Jr.'s upbringing is different, as his dad's family raised him.

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Returning to Aretha's wills, they have been quite controversial and were the reason for family conflict. Apart from the fact that everyone believed she had left no will, one of the handwritten documents was found under the couch cushions.

If the Queen of Soul had not left behind a will, her estate would have been divided equally among her four sons. That was the initial agreement, and one of their cousins, Sabrina Owens, was appointed to represent Aretha's estate.

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However, her different wills changed everything. The last of the three, written in 2014, didn't list Clarence as a beneficiary. Instead, Aretha instructed the rest of her sons to check on his welfare weekly and "oversee his needs."

According to Clarence's court-appointed guardian, Jon B. Munger, the wills cannot be authenticated. Jon added that they contain contradictory instructions, and some parts are illegible.

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Edward Jr. and Kecalf have supported the 2014 will, while Ted Jr. asked the judge to decide on all three documents. He also wanted to be named an estate representative alongside his cousin.

It is essential to point out that Edward Jr. accused Sabrina of self-dealing by supposedly taking possession and driving around Aretha's 2016 Mercedes-Benz sedan.

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If dealing with three wills was challenging for the family, attorneys, and judges, the fourth one — filed in a Michigan court in March 2021 — made everything more complicated.

The documents included an eight-page will and a twenty-three-page trust supposedly written in 2018, but they are both stamped as "draft," and neither has Aretha's signature.

Still, Michigan lawyer David P. Lucas (who is not involved with the case) explained that the court could accept it as a valid will under Michigan law even without her signature. Clear and convincing evidence that Aretha wanted that to be her will must be presented in court.

An entertainment lawyer, Don Wilson, who represented the singer for over 30 years, revealed that he had advised her to get a formally typed will, but she remained resistant. According to Don, Aretha was very private and did not want a formal trust because she did not share her information with others. Instead, she wrote one herself.

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The singer supposedly hired Detroit lawyer Henry M. Grix to help plan her estate. They had been in discussions for more than two years, but she fell very ill before she could sign the papers. In her latest will, Aretha Franklin requested a trust to be established for Clarence and most of her assets to be divided among the rest of her sons.

The trial to determine which document should be declared the singer's formal will was set for August 2021, but no information has been reported about it. Only time will tell if the Queen of Soul's final wishes were granted.

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