Widely beloved in Chicago and the baseball world, Ernie Banks — a/k/a Mr. Cub — rose from humble beginnings. He began his career earning seven dollars a day in the Negro Leagues, before crossing the color barrier and becoming the Chicago Cubs’ most popular player ever. After his playing career, Banks has been widely respected as a positive role model in baseball and beyond. He continued to break new ground, becoming the first black Ford Motor F -0.18% Company dealer ever and being actively involved in charity work throughout his life after baseball. In 2013, President Obama awarded Banks the National Congressional Medal of Honor. Ernie Banks died on January 23rd at age 83 from a heart condition. Interestingly, his death certificate listed dementia as a “significant condition contributing” to his death. Why is that important?
Just a few months before he died, Ernie Banks signed a new set of estate planning documents, including a power of attorney, healthcare directive, new will, and a trust. These documents left his caregiver and talent agent, Regina Rice, in control of everything. This new will and trust totally left out his family members and named Rice as his sole beneficiary. Rice would stand to inherit not only whatever assets and wealth Ernie Banks accumulated during his life, but the right to control (and profit from) his name, likeness, and image.
Banks’ children say they will take her to court to keep that from happening.
Forbes reports in a recent article, titled “Estate of Ernie Banks In Turmoil As Caregiver Claims To Be Sole Heir,” that the Banks children are claiming Rice coerced their father to sign the new estate planning documents, by controlling and manipulating him, using her position of trust and confidence to take advantage of his dementia to their detriment.
The parties already have been slugging it out over Mr. Cub’s wishes. Banks said in multiple past interviews that he wanted to be cremated when he died and have his ashes spread over Wrigley Field. His ex-wife, along with his children, sued to stop the cremation and won the right to have Banks buried. Interestingly, even though the couple was estranged and in the middle of divorce proceedings, Banks’ wife still was considered his next of kin, which gave her the right to control his burial arrangements.
As far as the fight over controlling his image and inheriting his assets, the Forbes article points out that it will certainly be much more complex and drawn out than the duel over how to bury the baseball great. Individuals can leave their assets to whomever they want, but they must be of sound mind and free from what the law calls “undue influence.” Families often fight over whether a will truly represented the decedent’s wishes, or whether it was signed under coercion, manipulation, fraud, or other improper influence.
Since Rice was in a position of trust over Banks, the law says that it is assumed on a preliminary basis that she did exercise undue influence. She’ll need to show that she did not commit undue influence, instead of the children being required to prove she did.
Although it remains to be seen how this will end, it’s already certain that this is a tragedy for the legacy of a baseball icon. Unfortunately, this isn’t uncommon. This type of fighting and court action occurs frequently up and down the economic ladder.
You can prevent an estate battle in your family with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney long before a loved one has dementia or is possibly mentally incompetent.
Reference: Forbes (February 19, 2015) “Estate of Ernie Banks In Turmoil As Caregiver Claims To Be Sole Heir”