Rosa Parks’ Estate Woes
On October 24, 2005, the nation mourned as one of the key figures of the civil rights movement passed away. Rosa Parks, born February 4, 1913 would go on to be honored with awards ranging from the 1979 Spingarn Medal to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal and a posthumous statue in the United States Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. She was the first woman and second non-U.S. government official granted the posthumous honor of lying in honor at the Capitol Rotunda. She was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame in 2008. Indeed, her name is synonymous with the civil rights movement.
Fast forward to 2012, one might think it outlandish, but the legal battles over her estate are still ongoing today. Parks set up an institute with Elaine Steele, who was her assistant and caregiver. Many of Parks possessions and intellectual properties were given to the institute outside of any testamentary instrument. Steele, along with Adam Shakoor, a retired judge, were selected by Parks to administer her estate. These appointments were challenged immediately on her passing in 2005 when Parks relatives accused Steele of manipulating her way into the position of administrator. Both Steele and Shakoor stepped down, and the judge had them replaced by two probate attorneys.
A 2007 agreement between the parties called for Steele and Shakoor to be placed back in their respective position, and the judge failed to re-appoint them until February 2012, when ordered to do so by the Michigan State Supreme Court, for a second time.
Today, the family is asking the Court to order Steele and Shakoor to establish am $8 million dollar surety bond, to protect them from any possible misconduct committed by Steele or Shakoor. Parks relatives fear Steele and Shakoor may try to short change them of their share of inheritance.
“Due to the continuing litigation and the history of this case … the heirs are apprehensive that the fair, true and just administration of this estate and trust may be compromised in a manner that will be detrimental to their interests,” their lawyer, Lawrence Pepper, said in a court filing.
Steele’s lawyer has countered saying that Pepper intentionally overstated the value of Parks’ possessions “in order to set an artificially high bond that will be extraordinarily difficult if not impossible for Steele and Shakoor to obtain.”
It is unfortunate that even after doing the responsible thing in setting up an estate plan, that Parks’ estate is still in such turmoil so many years later. Though without an estate plan it likely would be even more contentious. I would love to examine the testamentary documents and see how they are built. It sounds like one think that is missing is a no contest clause.
A no contest clause, properly baited with a piece of inheritance, simply states that any party who contests the will automatically forfeits all rights to any inheritance under the will. It is a very effective way to ensure those who may cause contention and try to undue a your testamentary scheme comply with your wishes.
In this case, a no contest clause, or a more generous baiting of it, may have prevented this whole debacle, and Parks’ would finally be able to rest in peace.