Oakland County residents may be familiar with the ongoing probate dispute over the estate of Rosa Parks, the well-known civil rights icon who died in 2005 with an estate valued at roughly $9 million.
Rosa Parks had a will when she died, but shortly after her death, her 15 nieces and nephews challenged the validity of the will as well as the decisions made by Parks' personally chosen representatives. A legal battle ensued.
A Michigan judge recently ruled against Parks' relatives, and has instructed the two sides to work together, under the judge's supervision, to properly administer the estate.
When the case began, an argument raised by Parks' relatives was that one of the representatives Parks chose for her estate administration had improperly influenced her to deny the nieces and nephews a share of the estate. Improper influence is usually alleged when someone who was left out of the will feels he or she should have been included. The person accused of undue or improper influence is usually the person chosen by the estate owner to carry out a will.
The Parks case was set for trial in 2007, but a last-minute legal agreement settled the division of profits from the sale of Parks' possessions. However, the sale has not yet gone through, and now the lawyer for Parks' personal representatives is estimating her belongings are worth only $4 million because a buyer cannot be secured.
Estate planning can be an immensely complex area of law. Even with a will, the litigation over Parks' estate has gone on since her death in 2005. The most effective way to ensure a desired result, and to avoid extensive probate litigation among relatives and representatives, is to have a comprehensive estate plan that clearly details the estate owner's end-of-life wishes.
Source: Detroit Free Press, "Judge tells Rosa Parks' estate disputers nothing sells without his OK," David Ashenfelter, March 21, 2012.