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  • Writer's pictureCook Tillman

Challenges of managing estate assets can last long after probate

Probate can be a difficult, complicated process that people are often glad to put behind them.

However, it may not be possible to put the process entirely behind you if an estate with which you are involved contains complex assets that require ongoing maintenance and legal attention. This can be the case if an estate contains assets that will continue to earn money.

For instance, recently, the estate of late automaker John DeLorean filed a lawsuit against the DeLorean Motor Company claiming the company owed the estate money.

Readers can learn more about the case in this Forbes article, but basically, the estate is claiming that the DMC collected money from Universal Pictures that should have gone to DeLorean’s estate.

John DeLorean reportedly struck a deal in 1989 with Universal to use the iconic DeLorean car in merchandising and advertising for the “Back to the Future” movie. He received 5 percent net profit throughout his lifetime. After he passed away in 2005, the payments stopped and instead went to DMC, a separate company started in 1995.

According to DMC, the company now owns rights previously held by DeLorean and his estate. In an earlier lawsuit between DeLorean’s estate and the DMC, the parties fought over intellectual property rights for the car’s image, DeLorean’s image and the DeLorean name. The case ended with a settlement and division of rights, though the estate is now claiming it — and not the DMC — should receive royalty payments from Universal.

This situation, while legally technical and complex, should be a reminder to any person with income-earning assets. Managing these assets after a person’s death can prove to be very complicated, so it is crucial to understand this when selecting an estate representative. A person in this role should be prepared to maintain such assets long after probate, if necessary.

If you are an estate representative with questions or concerns about protecting assets during and after probate, it can be imperative that you consult an attorney. In some cases, mistakes with asset management could lead to loss of property or income, which could be financially devastating.


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