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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

Martin Luther King Jr. property subject of family probate dispute

The children of Martin Luther King, Jr., the famed civil rights leader celebrated by residents of Minnesota and by other Americans around the country, are in the heat of a probate dispute that revolves around the late pastor's personal effects.

Dr. King's daughter, Bernice, currently has possession of both an old Bible that Dr. King took with him on his many travels and the Nobel Peace Prize that Dr. King won in 1964. Bernice is concerned that her two brothers would prefer to put these items up for sale.

In a sealed request, the two brothers apparently demanded that Bernice turn over the Bible and the Nobel Peace Prize. Together, the three siblings make up a board that serves as the executor for Dr. King's estate and are collectively authorized to perform acts on behalf of the estate.

Even though the two brothers both want access to Dr. King's artifacts, at least one expert not directly involved with the case has suggested that the King brothers may have a difficult time proving their case in the court.

According to this expert, the brothers will not be able to simply rely on the fact that they want the property but will also have to show that Bernice's refusal to return the items is harming the estate. Moreover, the brothers will also have to show that taking the property by court order would be the only way to resolve the issue.

As this case illustrates, sometimes a probate dispute can emerge years after a person's death, especially when that person is famous or has a large amount of property that must be distributed. These disputes may be about an inheritance or about how the estate should handle a particular piece of property. In all such cases, it may be helpful to consult with an attorney with experience in probate litigation.

Source: CBS Atlanta, "MLK Jr.'s niece sides with Bernice in legal fight with her brothers," Tony McNary, Feb. 5, 2014

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