Attorney appeals in breach of confidentiality dispute over Rosa Parks' estate

A Michigan attorney has accused a probate judge and two probate lawyers of conspiring together to drain the estate of civil rights icon Rosa Parks. According to the attorney, the judge held secret hearings and made improper rulings, allowing the attorneys to construct a phony breach of confidentiality dispute.

The estate dispute allegedly became the occasions for the judge to deprive Elaine Steele and the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute of their share of the civil rights icon's estate. Their share was apparently worth as much as $8 million. The end result of the collusion was over $507,000 in legal fees for the attorneys and $88,000 of debt for the Rosa Parks estate.

Both attorneys have denied the allegations, and the Michigan Court of Appeals has already ruled that the fees were proper. That decision has been appealed to the state Supreme Court.

The lawsuit is the latest development in a string of disputes beginning with a challenge to the validity of a trust after Parks' death in 2005. Parks was a highly contested estate, with 13 nieces and nephews contesting her estate plan. She herself had no children.

Some experts have predicted that the suit is likely to fail because of the difficulty of proving the allegations.

Breach of confidentiality is only one ground upon which estate litigation can take place. Trust mismanagement, mental incompetence, undue influence, and fraud are other potential grounds for estate challenges.

One of the goals of estate planning is to come up with strategies to prevent the occurrence of estate disputes. These cannot be avoided in every situation, of course, but thorough planning can go a long way.

Source: USA Today, "Lawyer sues judge, two others in Rosa Parks estate case," David Ashenfelter, May 17, 2012

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