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Family, Friends Settle Dispute Over Civil Rights Icon's Estate

Children in New York and around the country--indeed, around the world--are taught at an early age of the bravery and courage of Rosa Parks, the African American woman who famously refused to give up her seat to a white man on an Alabama bus in 1955. Her act lit a fuse on the civil rights movement and brought a young preacher named Martin Luther King, Jr., to prominence.

Unlike King, Parks herself lived to old age, eventually settling in Michigan. While in her life she was often regarded a symbol of the civil rights movement, unfortunately since her death she has mostly been the subject of battles among her family and friends over her estate and the execution of her will. While Parks did not make a great deal of money in her lifetime, her possessions are valuable artifacts of a crucial time in American history.

Parks died in 2005, but the bad blood over her estate continued for several years thereafter. Earlier this year, a settlement was filed concerning her estate, which could be worth around $8 million based on the items that she kept for all those years, including the very coat she was wearing on the bus that day in Montgomery, Alabama.

The agreement divides her estate among her 15 nieces and nephews, her longtime caregiver and friend, and a charitable institute Parks and her friend had founded. The document also specifies that the parties involved may not publicly criticize one another.

This case goes to show that estate planning is not something to be taken for granted. Parks apparently thought her wishes were clear, but several years of legal wrangling have proved that not to be the case. People in New York who are concerned about how their wills are to be executed after their death owe it to themselves to consult with an estate planning attorney to account for all contingencies.

Source: Detroit Free Press, "The secrets are out on deal to settle suit over Rosa Parks estate," David Ashenfelter, Feb. 5, 2012