Martin Luther King, Jr.’s three children have been fighting with each other in court over control of his estate and financial legacy. Here are my prior articles about the Martin Luther King, Jr. estate fight. Two of the three children had sued Dexter King, their brother, who had the legal authority to make decisions regarding the King Estate. The Estate was run through a corporation, which Dexter oversaw, until the 2008 lawsuit filed against him in Georgia.
Recently, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural D. Glanville had ordered the trio to hold a shareholders meeting and try to resolve their differences. He also ruled the case would go to trial if no settlement was reached. Obviously, no one involved wanted the legacy of Martin Luther King fought over in a very public courtroom.
So the three children settled, reported today by the Associated Press. They agreed to allow a neutral person to act as “temporary custodian” to manage the King legacy and corporation, and give the three children time to repair their fractured relationship.
This temporary custodian will have a lot on his or her plate. The King family fight included disagreements over a movie deal with Stephen Spielberg’s DreamWorks Studio and a $1.4 million book deal about their famous father’s life. Now the decision to finalize these deals will fall to this temporary custodian.
The two warring factions of the King family will each propose three people to serve in this important role, and the judge will interview at least one person from each list and select a single custodian to manage the King estate and legacy.
So now a stranger will be left to make decisions about how to protect and uphold the all-important legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. If he had created a basic will before he died (or better yet, a revocable living trust), King could have hand picked the person or people to manage his affairs and specified what role his children would play. If he had done so, this entire fight might have been avoided.
It’s also a good lesson for families facing disputes over the administration of an estate or trust. The King lawsuit was started because Dexter King’s siblings claimed he refused to share information with them and entered into business deals in secret. Secrecy is rarely a good policy in this situation. When a loved one dies, families that talk, share information and communicate like a family should can usually avoid feuds like this one.
So do your estate planning, with the help of an experienced attorney. Hand pick the person you want to manage the savings of a lifetime that you worked so hard for. And if you lose a parent or other loved one, work together with your siblings and other heirs so that everything is out in the open and no one is left in the dark.
Posted by: Author and probate attorney Andrew W. Mayoras, co-author of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founder and shareholder of The Center for Probate Litigation and The Center for Elder Law in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law. You can email him at blog @ trialandheirs.com.