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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

Sibling rivalry dispute in MLK bible case finally settles

Disputes among siblings are common, thus the term sibling rivalry. But what happens when the children grow up and that rivalry continues. The children may have the difficult task of working together in settling their parents' estate. Disagreements among the adult children can drag settlement of the affairs on for years and create bitter, costly court battles. The MLK case is one such example.

Two valuable items disputed

Martin Luther King, Jr., (MLK) was assassinated in 1968. His widow died in 2006. The eldest King child died in 2007. After that, a dispute among the three remaining King children arose. The dispute was over two valuable items: MLK's traveling Bible, which was used during President Barack Obama's 2013 inauguration, and the Nobel Peace Prize MLK won in 1964 during the civil rights movement. Some reports say the items could sell for around $10 million for the Bible and $1 million for King's Nobel Peace Prize. Private papers and a book collection of MLK's previously sold for $32 million to King's alma mater, Morehouse College, back in 2006.

In January of 2014, the two brothers, Dexter Scott King and Martin Luther King III, the eldest sibling, outvoted their sister, Reverend Bernice King, in favor of selling the estate items. The case went into litigation, but then went to mediation before the trial date. The mediator was former President Jimmy Carter.

The latest decision

An Associated Press article from August 15, 2016, explained the latest decision in the case. From Atlanta, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney ruled that the Bible belonged to the MLK estate and must be returned to the eldest brother who oversees the estate. However, the fate of the Nobel Peace Prize remains undecided.

This lawsuit was the fifth such dispute among the heirs to the MLK estate in the last ten years. At its core, this is a property ownership dispute. The owner of the items gets to decide what happens to them, if they will be sold or not. Property disputes are common in settling estates. However, not all property disputes go to trial. Most are also not this public, unless they involve public figures, such as MLK, or entertainers, such as Michael Jackson or Prince. Many disputes can be settled among the family members or mediated before going to trial.

When disputes among siblings surface, an estate and trust litigation attorney can help you work through the dispute. Contact a qualified attorney to represent your interests or mediate the dispute, so you and your siblings can finalize matters and move on after your loss. 

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