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Preventing probate/estate disputes : work with an experienced attorney, P.1

Probate and estate administration is not always a neat, tidy process. In some cases disputes can arise, causing fighting between family members and beneficiaries and adding significant complications and costs to the process. The potential complications of probate and estate administration are exemplified in a legal dispute over the massive book collection of author Maurice Sendak.

Sendak, an illustrator and author of children’s books, is best known for his book, Where the Wild Things Are, which was published in 1963. Sendak died in 2012, leaving a massive book collection to a foundation he created, the Sendak Foundation. Sendak specified in his will, however, that “rare edition” books would be left to Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum and Library, with which Sendak had a long-term relationship of allowing his book collection to be on loan. 

The lack of clarity in Sendak’s will caused a legal dispute between his estate and the Rosenbach, with over 300 books being the source of fighting between the estate and the museum. The dispute was finally resolved recently when the probate court handling the case ordered that 252 of the disputed books be returned to the estate, while the Rosenbach was allowed to keep 88 of the contested books.

The case is a reminder of the kind of complications that can arise when a will is marked by ambiguous language or does not specify exactly what certain terms mean. Many, many probate disputes can be chalked up to inadequate planning and failure to keep a plan updated. That being said, not every probate dispute can be attributed to poor planning.

In our next post, we’ll look a bit more at this topic, and the importance of working with an experienced attorney in estate planning matters. 

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