The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, died of pancreatic cancer on August 16, 2018. She left behind a musical legacy, an estate worth $80 million and, according to court filings, millions of dollars in unpaid taxes.
Franklin, who died without a will, already had a messy estate: her four sons filed documents in the Oakland County Probate Court listing themselves as interested parties in her estate. According to court documents, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is also named as an interested party (number 6) in the proceedings.
The probate court did not make the pleadings accessible online. However, documents obtained by the gossip site TMZ.com indicate that the IRS is seeking more than $6.3 million in unpaid income taxes for the tax years 2012 through 2018.
The largest debt alleged for any single year is more than $2.1 million in unpaid federal income taxes owed for 2015; that amount, however, is considered an estimate. Tax liens have been filed for the tax years 2016 and 2017; those amounts are not estimates and total nearly a half million dollars, including penalty and interest. Penalty and interest have not yet been assessed for the other years since the amounts due have not been finalized.
The IRS filed an additional Proof of Claim for more than $1.5 million for tax years dating back as far as 2010 for 945 taxes and related penalties. Forms 945 are a bit of a catch-all annual return but are typically used to report tax withholdings from freelancers and independent contractors.
Both Proofs of Claim, as filed by the IRS, notes that “[n]o part of this debt has been paid, and it is now due and payable to the United State Treasury at the Office of the Internal Revenue Service.” They were filed this month. However, David Bennett, an attorney for Franklin’s estate, told The Associated Press that the estate has paid at least $3 million in back taxes. “All of her returns have been filed,” Bennett said, noting that the estate disputes the amount owed. “We claim its double-dipping income because they don’t understand how the business works.”
An email sent to Mr. Bennett seeking further comment was not immediately returned.
A battle over Franklin’s assets, including from creditors like the IRS, could last for years. A court hearing on probate matters is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. on January 16, 2019.