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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

Antique books at the center of probate dispute

Some Minnesotans may be familiar with the work of Maurice Sendak, who wrote and illustrated many books of so-called children's literature. His most famous work is probably "Where the Wild Things Are." Now, and unfortunately for his family and friends, a dispute over how his estate is distributing his property and the ensuing probate litigation threatening to make his estate administration seem much like the thick jungle of his famous book.

Sendak, who died two years ago, had in his possession a number of what his will described as rare books. He also had a collection of vintage books by Beatrix Potter, the author of "The Tale of Peter Rabbit." His will specified that his rare books would go to a particular museum. Except for where he otherwise specified, all of his other assets would go to a foundation bearing the author's name, which could turn around and sell them.

Attorneys for the museum allege that this is exactly what the foundation intends to do and have suggested that unless a probate judge forces the administrators of the author's estate to turn over the books, the foundation will sell them at an auction early next year. According to the museum, the estate has declined to do so, saying that the Beatrix Potter collection are not rare books. Supposedly, the estate claims that the books are not rare books because they are children's literature.

No matter how a judge rules on this request, the case illustrates that probate litigation can not only involve sweeping challenges to the validity of a will or trust document but also involve seeming minor points, like the meaning of an unclear word or phrase. In such cases, there may still be a need to have the assistance of an experienced probate litigation attorney.

Source: Connecticut Law Tribune, "Famous author's rare book collection focus of probate drama," Thomas B. Scheffey, Nov. 26, 2014.

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