Legendary Figures Feed

Rosa Parks' Final Wishes, Ignored for Years, Are Finally Restored

She ranks as one of the greatest civil rights icons of all time, all starting with a seemingly simple act of refusing to move from a bus seat.  Rosa Parks passed away at age 92 in 2005, living in a modest apartment in Detroit, Michigan.  Her estate was modest too. Officially valued at $372, 624 in monetary terms, but of course priceless in terms of memories and historical significance.   Rosa Parks

Her final wishes were not so modest.  She assigned all of her belongings to a charitable institute to “educate and motivate youth and adults, particularly African American persons, for self and community betterment.”   She called this the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development.  She named her close friend, Elaine Steele, along with a retired Detroit judge, to oversee her estate.  She also named Elaine Steele as a prominent beneficiary, including a 90% recipient of royalties, with 10% passing to her nieces and nephews.

But Parks’ many nieces and nephews did not agree with her final will and trust, which were created in July, 1998.  They sued to challenge the estate plan, accusing Steele of using undue influence on Parks.  Steele denied it.  After the case was started, amid claims of mismanagement, the probate judge removed Steele and the other appointed executor and replaced them with two local attorneys.

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Another Lawsuit Brewing Because Martin Luther King, Jr., Died Without A Will

There is no doubt about the greatness of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Unfortunately, his estate planning wasn’t so great.  In fact, King made a mistake that too many people make everyday in our country … he procrastinated with his legal planning and died without a will.   Martin-Luther-King-1964

In large part because of this, his legacy has been marred by fighting among his children over the handling of his estate, including claims of secrecy, mismanagement and misappropriating assets.  Years ago, MLK’s heirs formed a corporation to manage King’s estate, but then they fought over control over the corporation. You can read Trial & Heirs’ coverage of the lawsuit between the King children here.  Luckily, the heirs were able to reach a settlement and ended that round of fighting.

But, that doesn’t mean the court battles have ended.  The corporation which operates the estate turned its attention to a television anchor in Southern Mississippi, named Howard Nelson Ballou.  The Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr., Inc., sued Ballou and claimed he has possession of historic documents relating to King.

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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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Malcolm X legacy tied up in family feud

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 anti-semitism 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.  Malcom X

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.

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John Steinbeck heirs fighting 40+ years after he died

American icon John Steinbeck, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and Pulitzer Prize, having authored such classics as Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, died at age 66 in 1968.  Even a mind as creative as his likely couldn't have envisioned a fight over his property continuing to rage more than 40 years after he died.John_Steinbeck_1962

When he died, much of his estate passed to his third wife, Elaine (whom he married in 1950).  He did  not specifically include the literary rights to his works, so they passed under the residual clause in Steinbeck's will, to Elaine.  Elaine, in turn, died in 2003.  She left those rights and other property to her family members, excluding Steinbeck's children.  This included her husband's summer home in upstate New York, which passed to her sister, Jean Boone.

The New York Times recently wrote an interesting article about the lawsuit by the children against Boone and others, which sought to reclaim the house and obtain compensation from Elaine's heirs.  Initially, Steinbeck's living son and granddaughter had sued the publisher which owned the publishing rights to his works, trying to reclaim them for his descendants.

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The Barnes Art Collection Controversy, Part II

Dr. Albert Barnes built one of the most impressive art collections ever owned by a private individual.Dr. Albert Barnes  Its value was estimated to be more than 25 billion dollars.  The controversy surrounding the collection decades after Dr. Barnes died rocked the art world. 

This is the second installment of a two-part series covering the controversy.  You can read Part I here to learn how Dr. Barnes' detailed wishes to safeguard the collection in a building he chose, as expressed in his trust document, were completely thwarted by Philadelphia's art "elite", whom Dr. Barnes despised until he unexpectedly died in 1951.

Many current and former students and teachers of the Barnes Foundation, along with neighbors and the local township and county governments, banded together to try to protect Dr. Barnes' vision.  They formed the Friends of the Barnes Foundation (which has a very informative website). 

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The Barnes Art Collection Controversy, Part I

The powerful story surrounding the legacy of Dr. Albert C. Barnes and his historic art collection was captured in a documentary released on DVD last week, called The Art of the Steal.Matisse

While this isn't the typical way we track down stories, it certainly was highly entertaining.  The Art of the Steal is a must-watch; it's not only moving and compelling, it is thoroughly enjoyable.

So who was Dr. Albert Barnes?  Raised in a Philadelphia working-class family, he found extraordinary wealth by inventing a new antiseptic medicine to treat and prevent venereal diseases at the start of the 20th Century.  He used his wealth to build what is widely considered to be the greatest collection of post-impressionist art ever assembled.  It includes hundreds of works by masters like Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh . . . and on and on.  The collection has been valued at 25 to 30 billion dollars, at least.

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