The Detroit Free Press reports on the the latest twist in the continued litigation involving the Rosa Parks estate. Since her death in 2005, Ms Parks’ nieces and nephews have been at odds with the estate’s personal representatives about the disposition of her property, papers, photos and other mementos with an estimated value as high as ten million dollars although the estate is valued by some to be at no more than four million dollars.

Ms. Parks’ relatives asked for the probate court to order that the estate’s personal representatives post a bond of eight million dollars to protect them against the possibility that items might be improperly sold. The court refused, the judge choosing instead to be personally involved in the estate’s administration. Rather than give the representatives the ability to dispose of the property on their own, he directed that he be advised of all proposed  asset sales and that nothing be sold without his permission.  There have been charges and counter charges going back and forth concerning concerning the various rights of the family members and the legal representatives who claim eighty percent of the value of the estate based upon a settlement agreement the parties entered into prior to the start of a trial in 2007.

While the judge declined to order the posting of the bond, this does raise some interesting issues. In New York, it is common for folks to provide in their wills that there be no bond or undertaking required of their executors and trustees. While that can save considerable expense (the annual premium on a bond for a relatively  modest estate can cost thousands of dollars), there is something to be said for attorneys not slavishly including this proviso –at least without first conferring with the testator. Even the personal involvement of an interested jurist is not always enough to thwart a dishonest or incompetent fiduciary. When we draw our wills, we can not always accurately predict how our executors and trustees will act long after we are gone. The addition of a surety bond will come at a financial burden to the estate , but will also provide a level of protection of hard-earned assets which better insures that the testator’s intent will be carried out.