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Legal battle ensues over Martin Luther King Jr. documents

Residents of the Miami area may be interested to know about the ongoing saga regarding the late Martin Luther King Jr.'s estate. The heirs of civil rights icon are suing to gain possession of a number of priceless documents that they say were intended for them. The individual who has them now is claiming they were once a gift from the late MLK. Unfortunately, King died without a will, and now the fate of these documents will rest in the hands of probate court.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s estate is a prime example of what can happen when estate planning is not addressed promptly and appropriately. Since King's death, his heirs have fought over the estate and even hurled allegations of secrecy and misappropriation of assets. The constant fighting has, to some people, somewhat soured King's heroic legacy.

King's heirs finally formed a corporation to handle his estate. With the King children apparently done suing each other, they are turning their efforts to the Mississippi man, who has historic documents such as handwritten letters from King, transcripts of his speeches and even a handwritten letter from fellow civil rights icon Rosa Parks.

The man obtained these documents from his parents. His father was King's fraternity brother while his mother was King's personal secretary. The man's mother made a sworn statement that King gave these items to her as gifts. King's estate argued that the woman was instructed to hold on to the documents for professional purposes, and they were not gifts.

The man attempted to end the litigation fearing he does not have the monetary resources to fight the case in court. However, lawyers for King's estate said it was premature to dismiss the case, especially because they had not yet had a chance to depose the man's mother.

Since no one truly knows, or at least can prove, what King's intention was for these documents, it makes for a tough case to rule. These problems are universal in cases without a will. Problems such as these can be avoided with a well drafted will that memorializes the intent for various assets and even items such as important documents or even photos.

Source: Forbes.com, "MLK heirs challenge gifts to his 86-year-old former secretary," Danielle Mayoras and Andy Mayoras, Dec. 12, 2011

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