The perils that can arise from an incomplete, or nonexistent estate plan continue to plague the legacy of one of the most revered figures in American history. After his assassination in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King’s children struggled with conflicts about how to properly administer their late father’s estate. With no will to direct the inheritance, his heirs formed a corporation, The Estate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Inc., to protect estate interests. Recently, the corporation filed a lawsuit to recover documents Dr. King gave to a former friend and employee.
While working as his secretary in the 1950’s, Maude Williams Ballou, now 86, received numerous documents from the civil rights leader, including handwritten letters, speech transcripts and other materials. These documents have come into the possession of her son, Howard Nelson Ballou, a television news anchor in Mississippi. The estate corporation has filed a lawsuit to recover these documents, claiming they were not intended as gifts and rightfully belong to the estate.
Mrs. Ballou’s husband, who had been a fraternity brother of Dr. King, had kept the documents in storage at North Carolina’s Elizabeth City State University, where he worked. After passing away in 2007, he gave the documents to his son.
Currently, Mr. Ballou has filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the case, claiming that the documents are gifts and not property of the estate. The judge has yet to rule on the motion, and the case is still ongoing.