Even after a loved one is gone, disputes over his or her estate can continue to arise. For example, nearly forty-six years after the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., his estate is still involved in legal battles. Most recently, the King estate was in conflict with singer and activist Harry Belafonte over documents Belafonte claims were given to him by King and his widow, Coretta Scott King. Among the documents are an outline of an anti-Vietnam War speech written in 1967, a letter of condolence from President Lyndon Johnson to Coretta, and notes to a speech that King was never able to deliver.
The dispute first arose when Belafonte made plans to auction off the documents to the highest bidder at Sotheby’s, Inc. In response, the King estate took legal action that resulted in Belafonte’s being blocked from selling the documents. Belafonte in turn brought suit in federal court against the King estate. Ultimately, the parties reached a settlement, the terms of which are confidential. It is known, however, that Belafonte will be able to retain possession of three of the documents in question. In a joint statement, the parties’ respective lawyers conveyed a message of mutual satisfaction: “The parties express their appreciation to one another for the good -faith efforts that led to this resolution.”
The dispute with Harry Belafonte is over, but it does not represent the end of the legal concerns of King’s family and estate. The children of Dr. King are again fighting in court over possession of his Nobel Peace Prize medal, as well as one of his Bibles. The estate, which is controlled by King’s sons Martin Luther King III and Dexter Scott King are embroiled in a dispute with Bernice King over ownership of the medal and Bible. Ironically, the brothers are claiming the right to sell the items, just as Belafonte had with regard to the documents in his possession. Bernice is opposed to any sale of the items, and until an outcome has been reached, the Bible and medal will be held in a court-controlled safe deposit box.
Protecting Your Estate
Careful planning in the present can prevent future confusion, disagreement, and disputes. If you or a loved one have questions or concerns regarding the contents or legal rights of an estate, be sure to contact a New York estate planning lawyer with experience in dealing with these issues.
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