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Celebrity Legacies: Blurred Lines Surround Marvin Gaye Estate

There's nothing like a hit song to keep heirs dancing down the road to the bank -- even when that song wasn't written, composed, or sung by the celebrity singer who died.  Marvin Gaye and Robin Thicke

The heirs of Marvin Gaye hit it big with a judgment against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams for copyright infringement based on their chart-topping song Blurred Lines ... but will the  victory stand up on appeal?  And what exactly does this mean for the Marvin Gaye Estate?

This is installment #13 of our Estate Planning Lessons From The Stars series, which is based on the Celebrity Legacies TV show for which we provide commentary as the estate legal experts. See other articles in the series here.

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Joan Rivers' Estate Planning Was No Laughing Matter

Joan Rivers was widely respected for her sense of humor, work ethic, and willingness to say almost anything for a laugh.  When it came to planning her estate, however, the late comedienne and host of Fashion Police treated the matter very seriously.  Joan-rivers 2

Joan Rivers' last will and testament was signed on November 16, 2011.  A thorough and well-drafted legal document, her will named a living trust as her beneficiary.

Specifically, Joan Rivers, whose full legal name was Joan R. Rosenberg, signed the Rosenberg Family Trust on the same day as the will.  The will directed that all of her estate assets were to be distributed to that trust.

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Rosa Parks' Legacy Stained By Court Feud, Accusations Of Corruption

Fighting over estates is never pretty.  These court battles are emotional, draining, and sometimes downright nasty for everyone involved.  When they happen to the estate of a beloved American icon, it’s even more tragic.  300px-Rosaparks8

Rosa Parks’ Estate has been embroiled in fighting since not long after she died on October 24, 2005 at the age of 92 in Detroit, Michigan.  You can read about the long history of the court battle, which we summarized in this Trial & Heirs article.  In short, the Michigan Supreme Court restored the rights of the primary beneficiaries to Rosa Parks’ estate plan, years after the probate court judge ordered that their rights had been forfeited.  Finally, it seemed that the fighting had reached its end.

Instead, the battle actually turned uglier than before.  The attorney representing those beneficiaries who rights were recently restored — Rosa Parks’ friend Elaine Steele and the charitable institute that Rosa Parks had created, which Steele operates — went on the attack again.  He took the highly-unusual step of suing the probate judge who oversees the Rosa Parks Estate, Hon. Freddie Burton, and the two lawyers whom the Judge had appointed to administer the Estate, John Chase, Jr. and Melvin Jefferson. 

In doing so, Steele’s attorney accused them of cronyism, corruption, over-charging the Estate and more.  The attorney issued a press release about it and the allegations received widespread press coverage nationally, including the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, ABC News, and many others.  Steele’s attorney went on a Detroit-area radio show and openly discussed how he felt that Judge Burton, Chase and Jefferson were corrupt and engaged in a conspiracy.  He even said he believed the Judge was taking bribes.  The attorney promised to have Judge Burton removed from the case and accused him of refusing to “give up his corrupt ways.”

Judge Burton dismissed the allegations Steele’s attorney raised and refused to step down from the case.  His decision not to disqualify himself was upheld by the chief judge of the Wayne County Probate Court.  Steele appealed the decision, and the Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal.  Steele will likely appeal again.

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Michael Jackson's Siblings Promise New Fight Over His Estate

Michael Jackson's estate faced a tumultuous beginning three years ago after he unexpectedly died.  First his mother, Katherine, and then his father, Joe, filed challenges against the executors of his Estate, John Branca and John McClain.   Katherine backed off her attack and Joe's case was thrown out of court.   300px-Michael_Jackson_Cannescropped3

Since then, the Estate has been relatively peaceful, at least on the surface.  Branca and McClain have led the Estate from a debt-ridden start to enormous profits.  They began around $500 million in the red when the King of Pop died.  Three years later, the Estate reported $475 million in profits.

Of course, Branca and McClain have enjoyed a huge financial windfall from this as well.  They have a special arrangement, blessed by the probate judge who oversees the estate, allowing them to earn 10% from most deals they cut for the Estate.  Branca and McClain are now facing a new attack over their handling of the Estate.

Several of Michael's brothers and sisters -- including Janet, Randy, Tito and Jermaine -- signed a letter that they sent to Branca and McClain accusing the pair of fraud, forgery, exploitation and abuse.  The letter was published on a celebrity gossip website recently.

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What Does Tupac's Hologram Mean For Other Celebrity Estates?

The music world has been buzzing ever since the surprise appearance of Tupac Shukar — well, that is, a digitally-created 3-D image of Tupac — on stage to rap at the Coachella music festival in California.  Some have described this as creepy, like seeing a ghost.  Is this going to be a new trend for celebrity estates?  Should it be?  Tupac

First, there is the issue of legality.  Was it legal for Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg to bring Tupac’s image on stage?  Because this was a use of Tupac’s image and likeness for commercial purposes, only the holder of the “right of publicity” for Tupac could authorize it.  That right is owned by Tupac’s estate, under the control of the executor — his mother, Afeni Shakur.

Reportedly, she not only authorized it, but was thrilled with the outcome.  Dr. Dre repaid the estate for this permission with a contribution to the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation, which is Tupac’s charity.

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Can Florida Millionaire Justify Adopting His Girlfriend?

John Goodman is the 48-year old multimillionaire from Palm Beach, Florida who recently made headlines when it was publicly revealed that he adopted his 42-year old girlfriend to help protect the family fortune.   John Goodman

Goodman did this in the midst of criminal and civil legal proceedings pending against him.  They arose from the February, 2010 drunk driving incident during which Goodman reportedly ran a stop sign, killed a 23-year old man, and fled the scene.  When it was recently revealed that Goodman, in October of last year, had legally adopted his girlfriend, people across the country were outraged.

Goodman’s lawyer issued a statement defending the adoption.  He states that the adoption was done to protect Goodman’s children, not to shield assets from the family of the slain driver who is suing him.

While Goodman has been bashed across the country for his legal maneuver, it actually makes sense from a probate law perspective.  Years ago, Goodman placed $1.5 million into an irrevocable trust for his two children.  By investing that money into stock of the Goodman Manufacturing Co., which grew extraordinarily well under Goodman’s management, the $1.5 million trust fund blossomed to several hundred million dollars.

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Rosa Parks Trust and Estate Tied Up In Lengthy Court Fight

Civil rights icon Rosa Parks passed away at the age of 92 on October 25, 2005, in Detroit, Michigan. Almost six years later, her legacy is still tied up in a lengthy court battle.  The case features allegations of abuse, cronyism and corruption by the probate judge as well as the two lawyers he appointed to oversee the estate and trust.   Rosa Parks bus

It also involves who will receive all of the considerable civil rights memorabilia owned by Rosa Parks when she was alive, and even the rights to use her name and likeness.

Parks' will and trust left the majority of her assets to the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, operated by Rosa Parks' longtime friend, Elaine Steele.  Parks and Steele had formed this Institute.  Steele says she was close to Parks for 45 years and that Parks looked at her as the "daughter she never had."

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