Lessons in Estate Planning for New Yorkers in Musician's Death

Estate planning can save the loved ones of a deceased family member heartache in an already difficult time. An estate administrator can divide the deceased's assets in accordance with a well-written and clear will, warding off possible disputes.

For the heirs of Grammy Award winner Gil Scott-Heron, this was not to be. The family's mourning period was marred by disputes over who would market his poetry and music and administer his estate.

The family has been fighting quietly in New York Surrogate's Court since the musician and poet passed away in May. The deceased's only son was appointed the temporary administrator of the estate, and recently brought publicity to the familial dispute in New York by accusing his family members of pilfering from the estate.

The musician's son accused his sisters and his father's first mother-in-law of stealing more than $250,000 from Scott-Heron's account. He also claimed that one of his sisters snatched their father's body at the hospital. As the temporary administrator of his father's estate, he has brought cases against his family and the bank that allowed them to withdraw the money with forged signatures.

Proper estate planning could have precluded these issues and family members would not have been torn apart by financial disputes. Without a will, the distribution of assets can be costly and complex, and divided in a manner contrary to the decedent's wishes. It is also possible that state law would govern the management of assets if the will does not clearly outline how the estate should be handled.

Source: New York Daily News, "Bitter fight over Grammy winner Gil Scott-Heron's estate," Barbara Ross, Feb. 28, 2012

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