Famed rock music promoter Bill Graham made his name as the organizer of popular music festivals and concerts. His events are credited for launching the careers of legendary groups like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, the Eagles, and many others. Unfortunately, Graham’s life was cut short over twenty years ago, as he died in a helicopter crash in 1991.
In a testament to the longevity of many estate battles, just last week, a lawsuit involving Graham’s estate was revived by a federal court. The case is yet another reminder of the need to be very careful about all aspects of estate planning–from use of trusts to selection of executors–in order to give your family the best possible chance of handling these matters without conflict.
The Estate Battle
As discussed in a recent SF Gate article, the original lawsuit was filed in 2010, when Graham’s two sons claimed that the executor of their father’s estate, a business partner names Nicholas Clainos, unlawfully sold concert posters and other valuable documents worth millions of dollars. Specifically, in 1997 a sale was made by the estate to a company that acquired “Bill Graham Enterprises.” That sale allegedly included all of Graham’s copyrights and trademarks in addition to valuable musical memorabilia, including original posts for performances by legends, like Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones.
Unfortunately, Graham’s two sons claim that they only learned about the sale 12 years later, in 2009, while going through old boxes at the former company’s headquarters. In a suit filed shortly thereafter, the sons claim that their father’s executive hid knowledge of the property from them in order to engineer the lucrative sale to a third party company
Originally, the federal suit was dismissed with a judge claiming that the property sale was a legitimate transaction and noting that the four year statute of limitations on the matter had passed. However, last month that lower court ruling was partially reversed. Noting that the sons claim they did not find out about the matter until 2009, the appellate court allowed the suit to proceed on the grounds that it was not time-barred. This does not mean that the sons will win the case, but it does allow them the chance to present evidence to prove their claims in the next stage of the legal fight.
It is not uncommon for disagreements to arise between beneficiaries and an estate executor. To prevent complications it is always best to be up-front about one’s plans, so that there are no surprises. Having the proper legal details documented ahead of time is critical. But it is also important to share those details with appropriate parties so as to avoid shock or confusion that can cause conflict.