themighty logo

Aretha Franklin’s Handwritten Will Shows Concern Over Her Son With Disabilities’ Future


Three handwritten wills were discovered on Monday, almost a year after Aretha Franklin’s death that show the singer, like many parents of children with disabilities, was concerned about her son’s future. Franklin left behind instructions regarding her son, Clarence, who has disabilities that were never publicly disclosed.

Franklin did not have a legally binding will when she passed away in August 2018. The handwritten wills, which were found in a locked closet and under a couch cushion, have not been authenticated. Even if they are, the personal notes may not hold up in court. A hearing is scheduled for June 12.

According to NBC News, one of the wills states, “His father, Edward Jordan Sr., should never receive or handle any money or property belonging to Clarence or that Clarence receives as he has never made any contribution to his welfare, future or past, monetarily, material, spiritual, etc.”

Clarence is the eldest of Franklin’s four sons and was born in 1955 when Franklin was 12 years old. It is unclear if Franklin had guardianship of her son.

Franklin’s situation is not unique among parents who have children with disabilities. As Mighty contributor Charlie Beswick wrote:

Worrying about what will happen to my son after I die clings to my soul and rears its head when I least expect it. A constant reminder the relationship I have with motherhood is a world apart from that of my friends. Even between my boys, my responsibilities differ more than I ever imagined or wanted them to.

If you, like Beswick and Franklin, feel overwhelmed when it comes to planning for your child with disabilities’ future, you are not alone.

“So many people feel overwhelmed,” Philip Clark, a special needs planning expert who also has a younger sibling with Down syndrome, told The Mighty. “Parents often tell me, ‘I can’t even get myself to think about it, talk about it or go there.'”

While the process may initially seem overwhelming, Clark said creating a plan can give families some peace of mind.

For those who need help planning, Clark recommends using the following five-step process:

  1. Have a vision. Understanding why you need to begin planning will help get the process started. “Having a clear why is the most important step of planning,” Clark said.
  2. Document and save. Create a letter of intent and document everything regarding your child so that those tasked with caring for your child can easily step in. Clark provides his clients with a comprehensive questionnaire that translates their information into 60 to 80 pages of detailed, organized and searchable information.
  3. Identify future resources. Work to identify services, organizations or individuals who can help follow your plan in the future. “It is going to take a team and a lot of support,” Clark said.
  4. Plan financially. Financial planning ensures your loved one is well provided for and can live a purposeful life with the necessary resources. “Because we started with a vision plan, the financial planning conversation becomes much broader than only planning for what happens when the parents are no longer around,” Clark said.
  5. Make it legal. You need to make sure everything planned holds up in court, including wills, trusts and special needs trusts. This is also where you make sure guardianship is understood by all involved in legal planning. “Select an attorney that understands the ins and outs of special needs planning.” Clark said, “The implications to something not holding in court could be catastrophic.”

It’s important to be proactive when planning for the future. “If the focus of planning is allowing someone to live a great life today with purpose, it is never too early to start,” Clark said. “The sooner we can start the sooner we can find those opportunities and abilities.”

If you are planning for the future of your loved one with disabilities, check out these articles for additional resources: