“Waiting In Vain” For Your Estate Plan

by barrettrkingpc

As a high school student in Sussex County, Delaware, I remember career day where an attorney came in to my classroom and explained what he did for a living. I was 14, maybe 15, and had no idea what a Last Will, an estate, or probate was, not to mention a revocable living trust. As a means of engaging the class, the lawyer gave us all a copy of the New Castle County, Delaware Robert Nesta Marley Probate Petition. I knew that name!

This particular decedent happened to be Bob Marley, known universally as the face of reggae music. It turns out that Bob Marley owned real estate in Wilmington, Delaware just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It also happens that he spent about a year of his life in Wilmington in the mid 1960s, working at a Chrysler plant, the inspiration for his song “Night Shift“, but that is another story for another site to discuss.

I did not realize that day that I would grow up to become an estate and trust litigation attorney, but I was certainly a fan of Bob’s music and could not believe that he had such ties to the small state of Delaware, especially considering he was Jamaican and, on top of that, incredibly famous.

It took me years to realize that the only reason Bob Marley’s heirs had to administer a probate estate in Delaware was because he owned property in Wilmington – specifically located at 2311 Tatnall Street, a residential row home across from a basketball court, and 2320 Market Street, which he owned with his mother, Cedella Booker, as a “tenant in common,” which means that she owned half but Bob’s half would pass to his heirs according either to his Last Will & Testament or the law of intestacy.

Had the reggae legend utilized a revocable living trust and titled his property appropriately, I would have never received this artifact some years after he died of cancer and his convoluted family tree became part of the public record of Delaware’s probate courts. By using a revocable trust, one can avoid probate and title real property in jurisdictions outside your domicile in the trust and thus avoid probate and the expense of retaining local attorneys to handle a portion of your estate. Especially, in the instant case, where you have not had substantial ties to a certain state in almost twenty years before dying (Bob Marley died of cancer, in Miami, in 1981).

It is seemingly epidemic of celebrities to fail to plan their estates. In Marley’s case he died young, in his thirties, but he had many children. Based on this small piece of his estate’s puzzle, there is no way to confirm that he lacked a will or trust, but it can be confirmed that his mother did not automatically inherit the property she shared ownership of with Bob. His surviving kin, a wife and ten children, would take partial ownership of the property on Market Street with his mother, who was also residing in Miami (and was at his bedside) at the time of his death.

Clients are well advised to consider all of their property, wherever it may be located, and to talk to an attorney about their specific intentions for certain assets. Did Bob Marley intend for his mother to end up owning half of the property on Market Street in Wilmington with ten other people? Not very likely.

What about Prince? Did he wish for his siblings to take fragmented ownership and control of his tightly protected – during his lifetime – intellectual property? Is Paisley Park to become a museum because he wanted it, or because estranged family need to drum up cash to settle the expensive confusion of administering his under-planned estate? Celebrities are frequent casualties of failing to plan their estates. Take the time to meet with an attorney that you trust to plan properly.

I may be the only lawyer in the world who listens to “I Shot The Sheriff” and worries about the victim’s legal documents, but the importance of proper planning still matters, lest you “Stir It Up” with a mess that gets left behind for your loved ones to handle.

For any who are interested, the properties mentioned in this article are today nondescript and unmarked, having fallen into history’s selective memory.

Barrett R. King, Esq.
King|Hall LLC
5300 Dorsey Hall Drive
Suite 107
Ellicott City, Maryland 21042