Family Dispute About Martin Luther King Jr’s Bible

August 24, 2016 Suzana Popovic-Montag Estate & Trust, Estate Planning, Ethical Issues, Executors and Trustees, General Interest, In the News, Mediators, Wills Tags: , , , , , , 0 Comments

Last week, the family of Martin Luther King Jr. settled a dispute surrounding two cherished family artifacts: the late reverend’s personal travelling bible and 1964 Nobel Peace Prize medal. King’s three surviving children—Martin, Dexter, and Bernice—disagreed about whether or not to sell these treasured items. The two brothers, who wanted to sell to a private buyer, outvoted their sister, who had possession of the items and wished to keep them in the family.  Former President Jimmy Carter acted as the mediator in the case.A photo by Samantha Sophia. unsplash.com/photos/NaWKMlp3tVs

Sadly, this kind of case is far too common. We have written about such “family wars” several times. Of course, no two family disputes will be exactly the same; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Individual personalities and family dynamics as well as the significance of the issues in dispute make each family dispute different. The facts in this case are unusual because of the particular items in dispute. This family bible is significant not only to the family, but also to American history. The bible at issue was used by President Barack Obama during his inauguration in 2013. As well, not every family will have a former U.S. President act as mediator.

On the other hand, the themes represented in this case often arise in family disputes, no matter how celebrated or obscure the family. Here, the brothers desired to sell because the Estate needed the money. Bernice, however, could not conceive of selling her father’s cherished possessions. Conflict between sentimentality and more material considerations often fuel estate disputes.

As we have discussed before, it important for a lawyer to recognize the role of passion and sentimentality in estates disputes. Feelings should not be the sole driving force in litigation. As well, communication is the most effective tool to avoid estate litigation. Testators should speak to their families, particularly their children, about their wishes and the terms of their will, to avoid surprises and hurt feelings.

Thank you for reading.

Suzana Popovic-Montag

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