B.B. King, a music legend – Undue Influence and Capacity in real life

B.B. King Estate Fight: One Year Later and No End in Sight

Legendary blues musician B.B. King passed away on May 14, 2015 due to congestive heart failure at the age of 89.  In a will created in 2007, King named his longtime business manager, Laverne Toney, as the executor/personal representative of his will.  The 2007 will, thus, puts Toney solely in charge of administering King’s assets, his property, and his trust.  In June 2015, a Las Vegas judge confirmed Toney’s appointment as sole executor, and rejected efforts to contest the will made by four of Mr. King’s children.

Although B.B. King did not have children from either of his two marriages, he nevertheless claimed to have 15 children with 15 different women over the course of his lifetime.  Confusing the situation still further, King’s doctors determined in the 1980’s that due to King’s low sperm count, he was not able to conceive children.  However, King never disputed paternity, and claimed to be the father of all 15 children, 11 of whom are still alive and have been fighting Toney over the estate.

In 2007, King set up a trust, which granted generous allowances to King’s heirs.  King also suffered from medical conditions such as arthritis, and in 2007, King signed over control of his medical care to Toney.  In 2011, King gave Toney control of his business affairs, as well as a power of attorney.  In 2014, King executed a more recent estate plan, which created a new trust that provided smaller, one-time payments to King’s children and grandchildren and provided an education fund for college expenses.

Some of King’s children believe that the 2014 trust, which is currently being administered by Toney, should be overturned in favor of the 2007 trust. One of King’s grandsons stated that the family was given notice about of the 2007 trust, and believes that any trust created after is suspect.  Apparently the family received no notice of the 2014 trust.  The Hollywood Reporter also reported that some relatives believe that King did not have the ability to change his estate planning in 2014, as he was suffering from Alzheimer’s related cognitive impairment and was almost blind.

The children want the Nevada court to rule that the documents relating to the 2007 trust will be honored, and the court may give King’s children the opportunity to make that argument.  Earlier this year, the judge overseeing the matter agreed that the court would review the 2007 trust.

Other disagreements also exist between King’s children and Tony, such as the value of King’s estate.  Some family members believe that the estate is worth between $30 million and $40 million, when royalties, asset sales, and music rights are taken into account.  However, Toney argues that the estate is actually much smaller than the family claims.  Toney values the estate at approximately $5 million, spread across just a few bank accounts.  The children have retained attorneys to represent them to dispute Toney’s claims and legal positions, which is almost certain to trigger a string of litigation that could drag on for years.

Interestingly, this is not the first fight between some of King’s children and Toney, and it likely will not be the last either in light of the animosity between both camps.  Within weeks of King’s passing, a few of King’s children alleged that the true cause of King’s death was poisoning by Toney and Myron Johnson, King’s personal assistant.  The children had no evidence to back up the claim, but an autopsy report was ordered.  No evidence was found to support the allegation of poisoning, and the suit was dismissed.

Even before King’s death, Karen Williams (claiming to be one of King’s children, but who was later proved to not be biologically related) filed suit against Toney and Johnson alleging that they abused their positions of trust, which resulted in King’s diminished physical condition, as well as the disappearance of money and personal belongings.  The suit further alleged that Toney had been taking King’s assets for her own personal use, and that Toney neglected King medically, stole money from his accounts, and kept King away from family members.  These allegations resulted in two investigations.  However, no wrongdoing found, and the claims were rejected.

This high-profile case involves allegations of undue influence, the validity of estate planning documents, and testamentary capacity, which are complex issues that frequently arise in probate litigation, particularly will disputes.  Chepenik Trushin LLP has a tremendous amount of experience with such issues.  Please do not hesitate to contact the attorneys at Chepenik Trushin LLP, who are ready, willing, and able to assist with everything from full blown probate litigation, to preventing litigation from arising in the first place through careful and comprehensive estate planning.