Below are 11 estates that each took multiple years to settle.
Death: July 1, 2004
Length of Dispute: 9 years
Ever since Brando’s death in 2004, his estate has been the source of a number of feuds. By 2009, it was involved in more than 24 lawsuits concerning his will and the heirs to his fortune. Less than two weeks before he passed away, Brando, to the surprise of many, handed over his legacy, image and estate to a set of new executors, replacing his personal assistant of 50 years and business manager of 40 years. The suspicious change of heart caused the new executors to take part in several purchases with Brando’s money, purchases that his heirs allege directly opposed Brando’s wishes. His relatives claim the executors unjustly commercialized the actor’s private island and refused to acknowledge the professed financial promises Brando made to his family members shortly before his death. The last of many disputes regarding the will was resolved in 2013.
Death: December 25, 2006
Length of Dispute: 9 years, ongoing
Singer James Brown died in 2006 from heart complications. He left behind an estate worth approximately $100 million and outlined that he wanted his money to be divided between two separate trusts: one intended for the education of his grandchildren, and another to help underprivileged children receive educations they otherwise couldn’t afford. Brown’s wife and children challenged his will three years after his death and were awarded half of the estate. Recently, however, record producer Jacque Hollander, who helped Brown create the two initial trusts, has challenged this decision. The conflict is still ongoing.
Death: June 10, 2004
Length of Dispute: 11 years
Ray Charles’ children asserted that their father’s manager, Joe Adams, had frozen them out of the estate, despite the fact Charles never named him in the will. They claimed that two years before Charles’ death, Ray promised each of his 12 children $500,000 and more to come once he passed away. U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins has sided with the children and opposes the foundation’s, and Adams’ refutations.
Death: October 28, 1993
Length of Dispute: 20 years
Socialite and philanthropist Doris Duke, of Duke University and Duke Energy Corporation, died October 28, 1993. Ever since, her fortune has become an exceedingly contentious issue for her heirs. Currently, her nephew’s children, Georgia Inman and Walker Patterson Inman III, are struggling with JPMorgan Chase and Citibank, the managers of the Duke trusts, to simply finish their educations. As of 2013, the dispute over their finances was still in full throttle.
Death: September 18, 1970
Length of Dispute: 44 years
Jimi Hendrix passed away in 1970, and his father/manager, Al, fought an arduous battle for control of the rights to his songs and merchandise. After Al’s death in 2002, the remainder of the estate passed to Al’s daughter Janie. Janie’s brother Leon and his children sued for being left out of the will. It appears that the courts sided with Janie and Leon in early 2014.
Death: April 5, 1976
Length of Dispute: 34 years
Nearly 34 years after Howard Hughes’ death, the heirs to his fortunes were still seeking compensation for the last payout from his estate. In 1996, Rouse Co. bought the remainder of Hughes’ assets, including 22,500 acres of Nevada land. Under the arrangement, the heirs were each promised a portion of the profits from the land’s future sales. However, once General Growth bought out Rouse in 2004, there remained the unresolved issue of how the heirs would be paid after the remaining land was to be appraised in 2009. The final liquidation of Howard’s estate in 2010 brought an end to the rousing feud.
Death: November 17, 1967
Length of Dispute: 20 years
The four sons of Fred Koch, co-founder of Koch industries, conducted a 20-year feud regarding their inheritance from their father. William and Frederick asserted that their brothers Charles and David stole from them $2.3 billion when they sold their shares of Koch Industries. The four siblings of the energy conglomerate king finally reconciled in 2001.
Death: December 8, 1980
Length of Dispute: 16 years
Julian Lennon, son of icon John Lennon and his first wife Cynthia, became estranged from his father at the age of five after Yoko Ono came into the picture. Once his father was assassinated in 1980, it came as no surprise that Julian was absent from John’s will. Julian sued his father’s estate, worth around 220 million pounds, for compensation. After a long legal battle, he won in 1996 what he disclosed was a meager fortune compared to what his father had left Ono.
Death: May 11, 1981
Length of Dispute: 10 years
Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley died in 1981 after suffering an acute bout of melanoma. Due to his Rastafarian faith and belief in reincarnation, Marley didn’t write a will. This started a bitter, antagonistic feud between wife Rita Marley and her late husband’s manager. The singer’s manager alleged, and later proved true, that Rita had forged Bob’s signature on a plethora of documents disguised as dated before his death, so that she could acquire the majority of his estate, royalty rights and money. Her fraudulent scheme, created in tandem with her lawyer and accountant, was brought to the attention of Florida courts and she soon lost control of the fortune. In 1991, however, the Jamaican Supreme Court took control of the case and determined that Rita and her children did, in fact, inherit the right to profit from Bob’s name, image and likeness.
Death: August 5, 1962
Length of Dispute: 7 years
Marilyn Monroe’s legacy and fortunes ended up in the hands of Anna Strasberg, a woman she had met only once. Following Monroe’s death in 1962 at aged 36, the star’s publicity rights and estate were left to her acting coach Lee Strasberg. When Lee passed away years later, his wife Anna attained complete control over the estate. In 2005 she sued photographers who used Monroe’s image for profit without permission. The battle lasted seven years. In 2012, a federal court of appeals ruled that Monroe’s estate was governed by New York, not California, meaning that anyone could in fact use her image for commercial purposes without compensating the heirs. Consequently anyone is now able to profit off of her likeness.
What do all of these stories have in common? Anyone can contest a Will, if the person believes there is enough money to be had. With a properly worded and funded Trust, the above stories would have dramatically different endings, meaning the intentions of the person making the Trust would have been followed.
Call me to set up an appointment, so that your estate is protected from the ridiculousness and tragedy that death creates.