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King estate sues MLK center to terminate license

The estate of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which is run by King's two sons, filed a complaint late last month in Atlanta, requesting that a judge prevent The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change from using his memorabilia, image and likeness. The nonprofit, located in Atlanta, is run by King's only remaining living daughter, Bernice King, making the suit a truly family affair.

Although the estate has supported the work of the center in the past--having been its largest benefactor over the last decade--things have recently turned sour. Back in March 2007, the estate granted the center the right to use King's name, image and likeness and to publicly display his writings and speeches.

Things got a bit ugly, though, when the estate audited the center in April and found that property was not being properly cared for. On August 10th, after communication between the center and the estate began breaking down, the estate notified the center it would be terminating the license to use the property in 30 days.

According to Bernice King's attorney, the estate's actions against the center are motivated by the brothers' desire to have control of the center's board.

The King estate is a good example of the way relationships between family members can degrade over time when legal disputes arise over matters connected to the estate. Such disputes are not always possible to avoid altogether, but with proper estate planning, they can be mitigated. This is why it is essential to engage in thorough estate planning and to prepare family members for the duties they will assume. 

Source:, "King's children in new court battle over legacy," Kate Brumback, September 4, 2013. 

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