This blog was written by Aathiya Bala, Associate Estate and Trust Consultant with Scotia Wealth Management
“Leaving Neverland” is HBO’s newest documentary that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 25th, 2019. In this documentary, two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck allege they experienced years of sexual abuse by Jackson in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. The estate of Michael Jackson is now suing HBO for damages of $100 million (or more) over “Leaving Neverland”. The estate is claiming that by showing this documentary, HBO is violating a non-disparagement clause from a 1992 contract. According to the lawsuit, when HBO aired Michael Jackson in concert in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour, HBO agreed not to “make any disparaging remarks concerning Performer or any of his representatives, agents, or business practices or do any act that may harm or disparage or cause to lower in esteem the reputation or public image of Performer”. The estate argues “Leaving Neverland” violates that agreement.
So how often does a Deceased Person’s Estate get sued? It’s actually a lot more common than you think. Here are a few examples of when you may think about suing an estate:
Lawsuits by Beneficiaries
During the administration process, estates can be sued for many reasons. Beneficiaries may view the costs and expenses of administering the estate as unreasonable, which can be a cause to sue the estate or the executor. Beneficiaries can also bring a claim against the estate or executor when there are fraudulent acts involved, such as taking money from the estate or not following the will’s instructions.
Continuation of a Case against the Deceased
An estate can also become involved in a case when the deceased passed away as the matter is proceeding through the courts. When this happens, the estate essentially steps into the deceased’s shoes, and the estate cannot be settled until the claims have been determined in the lawsuit. In addition, someone can sue the deceased if their death created a claim for that individual. For example, if the deceased passed away in an accident that caused another individual’s injury, that person can generally sue the estate.
Lawsuits by Creditors
As you may know, creditors will do anything to get their money. Claims against the estate for outstanding amounts due are not uncommon. Typically, creditors may require making a claim against the estate in probate courts prior to filing a lawsuit.
Estates Themselves Can Initiate Cases
Not only can estates be sued, but estates can also initiate litigation. Estates are subject to the same litigation rules as other claimants. As noted above, Michael Jackson’s estate is no stranger to this. Another example involving Jackson was when his estate was able to sue the operators of a website for improperly selling merchandise resembling Jackson without permission from the estate.
Well there you have it, even when you think your soul can now rest at peace, you can’t. Your estate can still be sued for a number of reasons. Let’s just hope it’s worth billions like Michael Jackson’s estate so we can somewhat rest peacefully.