Little things can make a huge difference in a person’s life and legacy. For example, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. won a Nobel Peace Price in 1964 for leading a peaceful struggle for civil rights, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Dr. King led peaceful demonstrations in prayer with a bible. The Nobel medal and the bible have been the subject of controversy in Dr. King’s family. After the death of King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, the bible and Nobel medal are in the possession of their daughter, Bernice King, who wants to keep the items in the family to preserve Dr. King’s legacy. King’s estate is controlled by their two sons, Dexter and Martin III, who are seeking to obtain the items for potential sale to a private buyer.
Dr. King and Coretta could have acted to preserve this portion of his legacy, indicating that the items were to be left to a charity set up to preserve the items. Of course, Dr. King did not expect his untimely death. It’s likely neither Dr. King nor Coretta expected their children to fight over these prized possessions.
They could have spelled things out more clearly as to who would control these prized possessions after both of them were gone. They could have specified that they were to be preserved for posterity, or, conversely, they could have stated that the items were to be sold and the proceeds used in whatever manner specified. Instead, because of a lack of planning, the Kings’ children have been involved in contentious litigation for years.
Be sure that the little things are not forgotten in estate plans that you draft. Something as simple as a tangible personal property list could have specified to whom the items would be left.
Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M.
Associate Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (800) 846-1555