Once again, we are using television as a jumping off point for a discussion of real life. The PBS series "Downton Abbey" offers a wealth of probate topics, chief among them the entailment. Entailments show up a lot in novels by Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, too. Dickens offers a much more depressing example for probate nerds in "Bleak House" -- Jarndyce and Jarndyce -- but we'll leave that for another day.
We have become hopelessly addicted to the PBS Masterpiece drama "Downton Abbey." It is not Dickens or Austen, but it isn't "Dallas" or "90210," either. The story centers on an English manor house, Downton Abbey, and the people who live there. The show may have its critics -- including a friend of ours who cannot bear the inaccuracies of the World War I scenes -- but it does offer an interesting lesson in inheritance.
This is our last post about a dispute between the estate of Martin Luther King Jr. and a woman who was both his friend and his secretary. It is the kind of argument that often finds its way into probate court, because it all boils down to what Dr. King was thinking when he handed historically significant documents to his secretary and said, "This is for you."
We are discussing the problems that inevitably arise when a world leader dies without a will. The leader in this case is Martin Luther King Jr. After his death in 1968, it took a while for his children to figure out how to manage his estate. Eventually, they formed a corporation that has worked hard to protect Dr. King's legacy, in part by gathering his papers in one place.
People spend the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday doing all sorts of different things. Some attend lectures, read or watch movies about Dr. King or the civil rights movement. Some take a moment during a Florida sunset to remember what he achieved -- what we have achieved and have yet to achieve. And, a very small number of people spend a moment wondering why Dr. King had not written an estate plan before he died.
Neither George nor Ira Gershwin had children, but that doesn't mean there was no one to watch over their estates. Since their deaths -- George died in 1937, Ira in 1986 -- their estates and the rights to their work have been in the hands of other relatives. On average, the estates have earned their heirs a few million dollars a year.
This is a new year, and we wondered what kind of resolutions would be appropriate. A friend suggested we go cold turkey on celebrity probate issues. Scanning the papers this week, though, that left us with a story about a man killed by a train and a woman suing his estate after being injured by flying body parts. The ick factor was impossible to overcome. Then we saw a headline about horses and executors of vast estates and foundations.