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Rosa Parks estate at the center of probate dispute

Readers in the Twin Cities will be interested to hear of a recent court decision that involved the estate of the late civil rights activist Rosa Parks. The case has been unfolding in Michigan, where the state supreme court just overturned a previous ruling given by a probate judge and the Michigan Court of Appeals. Reportedly, the probate dispute has been focused on a $10 million memorabilia collection and the intellectual property rights of the late civil rights icon.

After her death in 2005, two attorneys were put in charge of Parks' estate. In previous probate hearings, those attorneys alleged that the attorney for Elaine Steele -- cofounder of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development and longtime friend of Parks -- breached a confidentiality agreement. That agreement had been reached in a previous probate decision that involved Steele, the institute, and number of Parks' nieces and nephews.

However, it was decided just today that the probate judge and the court of appeals were wrong to find that the lawyer for Steele had breached the confidentiality agreement.

As part of the more recent decision, the attorneys who were put in control of the estate must now be removed. In fact, Steele and the institute claimed that the attorneys for the estate had abused their authority in previous probate hearings and allowed unnecessary fees to accumulate. The fees apparently drained almost $243,000 from the Parks estate.

Now, in accordance with Parks' end-of-life wishes, those attorneys will be replaced with Steele and a Michigan district court judge.

The case serves as a good example for Minnesotans who are or may one day be engaged in probate litigation. The law can be very complex, and probate disputes have a tendency to bring up harsh and deep-seated emotions even among family members. In such difficult circumstances, often the best course of action is to employ the services of a legal professional with in-depth experience in Minnesota probate law.

Source: Detroit Free Press, "Rosa Parks ruling overturned; Elaine Steele, institute regain financial stakes," Dec. 30, 2011

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