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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Can estates sue and be sued?

New York and New Jersey estate administration attorneys know that regardless of how well someone may (or may not) have planned their estate before passing, helping an executor through the probate process is an opportunity to bring comfort and to ease the stress on the executor. 
Often, went a testator makes their last will and testament, or “will”, they name a close family member like a spouse, adult children or other close family or friends as the executor who will be in charge of handling their estate. 

Sometimes, for various reasons, a testator may choose to appoint a fiduciary, like a trusted attorney, accountant, or other professional as the executor. This is more common when people don’t have other family or friends willing and able to serve, or in cases where the testator is a celebrity or has great wealth. In the latter situation, the management of the estate and the long-term income that may continue to be generated long after the person’s death warrants legal and/or financial experts handling the executor’s role. 

In a typical estate, an executor may petition the court for appointment, gather all the probate assets, located and pay the estate’s legitimate creditors, distribute the property in accordance with the testator’s wishes, pay any estate taxes, and close the estate. But some income-generating estates may continue on for years and may sometimes be involved in estate-related litigation. 

Take the late pop star Michael Jackson’s estate as an example. He died a decade ago, and his estate remains active-- commencing and defending litigation. Recently, the co-executors of his estate reportedly filed a $100 million lawsuit against HBO after its documentary “Leaving Neverland” aired. In the documentary, two men “accuse the lead singer of abusing them sexually when they were boys”. 

The estate claims this alleged posthumous character assassination attempt on the late pop star “violated a non-disparagement agreement” and that the reportedly negative reactions to the documentary could negatively impact the earning power of the estate-- specifically the estate’s agreement with Sony regarding Sony’s administration of Jackson’s recorded music catalog. The agreement with Sony is reportedly worth $250 million over seven years. In addition, the estate is defending lawsuits including those by men appearing in the “Finding Neverland” documentary. 

Choosing the right executor, and many other estate planning decisions, are easier when made with the help of a skilled estate planning attorney. 

If you need assistance with an initial estate plan or would like to like to modify an existing one, the estate planning experts at Merlino & Gonzalez can help you. Contact us today to schedule a consultation. 

From our offices in Staten Island, New York and East Brunswick, New Jersey, we represent clients in both states in all matters of estate planning, trust and estate administration, and real estate law. 


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