IRS Claims Aretha Franklin’s Estate Owes Substantial Tax Bill

Jan 7, 2019 | Blog

Aretha FranklinOften referred to as the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin passed away in her Detroit home in August, 2018. However, in addition to her outstanding musical legacy, paperwork submitted to the Oakland County Probate Court indicates that she may have also left behind an enormous tax bill.

The 18 time Grammy winner died at the age of 76 from pancreatic cancer. Franklin sold more than 75 million records throughout her career, yet died intestate. This means that the singer did not leave behind a will naming beneficiaries for her estate, the worth of which is estimated at $80 million, not including royalties yet to come.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, Aretha Franklin’s estate owes more than $6.3 million to the federal government in the form of unpaid income tax. This is a cumulative amount, dating back to unpaid balances assessed in December, 2012, and including current balances assessed as recently as December, 31st, 2018. The filing states that no portion of the debt was paid and is currently due. The official position of the IRS is that the debt is a priority and must be paid before other creditors or beneficiaries are satisfied. David Bennett, tax attorney for the estate, said that approximately 3 million dollars in back taxes were paid to the IRS, but that the federal tax agency is “never satisfied.”

Gwendolyn Quinn, Franklin’s longtime publicist, quoted David Bennett in a comment made last Thursday stating that Franklin’s personal tax obligations were paid in full before her death and any remaining issues are still being resolved. Quinn quoted Bennett as saying that the IRS’s claim is being disputed by the estate.

Bennett also stated that many un-cashed paychecks were discovered after Franklin’s death. He did not speculate about why the checks were not cashed, but inferred that perhaps the IRS determined that some of it was undeclared income and decided to make a claim.

Tax attorneys for one of the late performer’s sons, Edward Franklin, have filed a motion to request that monthly reports on all bank transactions and estate expenditures be given to all Franklin’s heirs-apparent. This motion will be heard by Judge Jennifer Callaghan in Oakland County later this month. Craig Smith, Edward Franklin’s St. Louis-based attorney, stated that all motions being filed next month in Oakland County are routine, but that he does not think there is much else that can be referred to as “routine” regarding Franklin’s complicated probate. It remains to be seen how much, if any, Franklin’s estate will owe the Internal Revenue Service.

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