Leaving a legacy of conflict – celebrities who died without wills: Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is the first of several posts about celebrities who died without wills, and as a result left a legacy of conflict, anger, and often lawsuits between their loved ones. My first entry: Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLK Jr. left no will. Of course, his death came as a shock and surprise, but everyone dies at some point and many people happen to die at a young age. (Obviously few people are assassinated, but that’s not the point.)

Dr. King’s estate included such items as his Nobel Peace Prize (awarded to him in 1964), the briefcase he carried on his last trip to Memphis, and his family bible. In the almost fifty years since his death, his surviving family have been locked in contentious legal battles, including his surviving spouse (Coretta Scott King) and the couple’s four children.

The family and the estate of Dr. King have fought over the years, both among themselves and with outsiders, as to the disposition, care, and maintenance of Dr. King’s personal papers and other personal effects. In 1968, following his assassination, Coretta Scott King established the King Center, located in Atlanta, as a museum and place to celebrate Dr. King and his vision of non-violence and equality. The King Center is now run by daughter Bernice.

Over the years, a for-profit company, Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Inc., run by son Dexter King, has sued the King Center, seeking to stop the King Center from its use of Dr. King’s intellectual and personal property.

Much of these disputes could have been eliminated had Dr. King left a will or, probably more appropriately, a trust for the benefit of his children. Instead, these documents and items, which are national treasurers, are the subject of nearly constant infighting between the King children.

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