My office is directly across the street from the Deter Avenue Baptist Church, (now officially the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church) where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously preached against racial inequality during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's.
But even Dr. King's children are not immune to the kinds of disputes that can arise over the property of a deceased loved one. A judge recently ruled in a lawsuit filed in 2014 by the Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr., Inc. (controlled by his two sons) against King's daughter, asking the court to order her to surrender possession of their father's travelling bible and Nobel Peace Prize. The estate intends to sell the items to a private buyer.
Recently the judge ruled that the Bible belongs to the estate, and may therefore be sold. The court has not yet ruled upon ownership of the Nobel Peace Prize. Former President Jimmy Carter has been serving as a mediator in this high-profile case. But if mediation fails, the matter is scheduled for trial next month.
On one hand, celebrity estates are atypical in that the intellectual property (or even the personal property) of the decedent may have value for many years after death. This kind of estate requires ongoing attention because a celebrity's estate may generate money for many, many years after their death.
On the other hand, this is a typical dispute between siblings. King's daughter feels that these deeply personal items should not be sold, while her brothers, who control the estate, feel otherwise.
A good estate plan should put your heirs in a position to succeed. While you can never guarantee that the heirs will stay out of court, you can incorporate procedural rules into your estate planning documents to resolve such disputes out of court.
In a protracted legal battle over an estate, the attorneys may be the only true winners in the end. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.