We were talking with a friend of ours about the Ray Charles Foundation's latest lawsuit. Her reaction was interesting. First, she was surprised to find a family involved in more probate litigation than her own. Then, she wondered if it really should be considered probate litigation, or if we should classify the story as estate administration, instead. Then she asked if we were going to include contract negotiations for royalties in our discussion (we may), and, finally, she asked if she could borrow $500,000 just to see how long it would take to go through it.
We are back to talking about the federal lawsuit filed by the Ray Charles Foundation against seven of Charles' children. On the surface, the lawsuit is an intellectual property dispute. When you dig down a little and look at how it all started, it is a terrific example of how complicated estate planning can be.
As our loved ones begin to age or deteriorate in health, we often want to do what we can to advocate on their behalf. If the right legal steps are not taken to preserve someone's legacy as they near the final chapter of their life, the potential for a legal battle in Florida probate court increases significantly.
Our research hasn't turned up any new information on the case we've been discussing. The Ray Charles Foundation recently asked a federal court to stop the transfer of about 50 copyrights to some of the singer's children before the copyrights start to generate income -- scheduled to begin on April 1, 2012. The case is a great example of a best laid will, trust and estate plan gang a-gley (with apologies to Robert Burns).
In 2002, Ray Charles invited his children to lunch. After 10 of the 12 had settled in, Charles explained that he was planning to establish an irrevocable trust for each of them. The trusts would be identical, and, when he died, the full amount ($500,000) of each trust would be theirs, tax-free. In return, he asked that they agree to just one thing.
Ray Charles' story is remarkable, really. Even considering his heroin addiction and philandering, just think about it: A poor black kid from Florida, completely blind by age 7 and orphaned in his teens, travels the state as a wandering minstrel and ends up the "father of soul." Charles was hugely talented, hugely successful and remarkably well-prepared when it came to estate planning.
You know, one man's treasure is another man's trash. Or, in the case of Ben Novack Jr., one man's treasure is his stripper-widow-accused-killer's trash. (Please understand that the epithets are the media's, not ours.) The treasure is Ben Jr.'s Batman collection, the collection that accounted for $2 million of the Miami businessman's $6 million to $10 million estate.
During the '60s, there was a poster or a bumper sticker or something like that that said, "What if they gave a war, and nobody came?" The saying was picked up as a slogan for the anti-war (Viet Nam War) movement, although it comes from a Berthold Brecht poem that is not at all anti-war. At any rate, we thought of it when we were going through all of the articles about the Novack estate.