Before he was assassinated in 1964, Malcolm X was a polarizing figure. He was revered by many as one of the greatest African-American figures ever, but was accused of racism and antisemitism by others. Perhaps it should not be surprising that his financial legacy is embroiled in conflict and strife. The resulting family feud has created a mess that has not been resolved for more than 14 years.
Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little, but became El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. His widow, Dr. Betty Shabazz, died tragically from severe burns she received in a fire in 1997, when she was 61. The fire was set by their 12-year old grandson.
No will of Dr. Shabazz was found, although some family members thought she had one. The probate court in New York overseeing her estate appointed two of the couple’s six daughters as the estate administrators.
While the estate was at one time valued at around $1.4 million, with the potential to earn much more, an unpaid tax debt has continued to grow as the family fights. This New York Times article about the family battle reports that the tax debt has grown so large during the fighting that it now exceeds the value of the estate.
What is the fight about? One of the daughters, Malikah Shabazz, and her court-appointed lawyer believe that two estate executors have mismanaged the estate, spent money on themselves, failed to account for estate assets, refused to make distributions, and at the same time allowed the obligation to Uncle Sam to remain unpaid.
The fighting has prevented the family from entering into a publishing deal for some autobiographical works written by Malcolm X and Dr. Shabazz, including four journals written during Malcolm X’s trip to Africa the year before he was murdered. All of the daughters must consent to the publication, and Malikah refuses to do so because of her concerns with the estate.
It’s a sad tale that impacts not only the family, but the general public who would benefit from reading the long-unpublished works of the African-American icon.
There is no good reason for an estate to remain open for almost 14 years, without proper distributions, accountings, and explanations that should have been provided years ago. This type of litigation over estate administration in probate court is usually avoidable when those in charge are fair to everyone and communicate openly.
Secrecy is never a good policy for estate executors! Hopefully the Shabazz family can get everything out in the open, move past their differences, and finally settle the estate of Malcolm X’s widow.
By Andrew W. Mayoras and Danielle B. Mayoras, co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and husband-and-wife legacy expert attorneys. They have appeared on the Rachael Ray Show, Forbes, WGN-TV, among many others. As educators through speaking engagements across the United States, as well as print, broadcast, and social media, Danielle and Andy consistently draw rave reviews and are in high demand. To receive Danielle and Andy’s celebrity-based tips to protect your family and legacy, sign up for the Legacy Update at www.TrialandHeirs.com.