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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

Nelson Mandela's heirs and beneficiaries fights over his legacy

Minnesota residents may have been following the recent reports of the poor health of the famous former South African President Nelson Mandela. As of this writing, Mandela, 94, was hospitalized with a lung infection. As he lay in a hospital bed, some of his family members were already embroiled in a messy legal battle over his legacy.

Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years under South Africa's brutal apartheid system. When he was released from prison, he quickly became the nation's first black president. He served one term before peacefully stepping down to concentrate on charity work. He has kept a low public profile in recent years as his health has declined. He is a figure beloved all over the world, but by all accounts his personal wealth is relatively modest, compared to his level of fame.

The recent legal dispute involves a trust fund, the value of which has been estimated at about $1.3 million. Mandela has reportedly said he made the estate plan in the hopes that it could help provide for generations of his family. However, Mandela has been married three times and has numerous children and grandchildren, all of whom can make a claim to at least part of that wealth.

According to two lawyers who helped set up the trust, two of Mandela's daughters secretly amended the documents creating the trust in an effort to make it more easy for them to distribute the trust's assets. The daughters are now suing to remove the lawyers from the boards of companies associated with the trust.

No one wants to leave behind a legacy of bitterness and division in their family, but disputes over inheritances are predictable. Careful estate planning involves making one's wishes clear in order to minimize the conflict between heirs and beneficiaries.

It is important for Minnesotans who are thinking about planning their estates to consider the potential for conflict, but also to not be afraid of it. Their goal is to make their wishes clear.

Source: The New York Times, "Mandela Is Hospitalized Again, Deepening Worries Over Frailty," Lydia Polgreen, June 8, 2013.

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