The world lost a legend of the comic world when Stan Lee passed away on November 12th at the age of 95. Prior to his death, Lee made headlines repeatedly as those close to him jockeyed for control of his fortune. Despite ailing health, Lee fought back with allegations of elder abuse. The litigation that was ongoing at the time of his death does not simply disappear with his death, meaning it will plague the probate of his estate. While most of us will not have the type of fame and fortune Lee had, we can all learn lessons from the conflicts, accusations, and litigation that surrounded his death.
A Marvel Legend
Born in 1922, Stan Lee grew up to become a comic hero legend. Beginning in New York in the early 1960s, Lee’s tenure at the top of Marvel Comics spawned the creation of some of the most well-known comic legends of all time, including Spider-Man, Black Panther and the X-Men. As the chairman of Marvel Comics, Lee took the company from a small division of a publishing house to a large multimedia corporation and earned a reputation as a shrewd, but fair, businessman along the way.
The Decline of a Legend
Toward the end of Lee’s long life, he began to suffer from physical and mental deterioration, as is often the case. When that happens, it is often necessary for someone to step in and take control over the incapacitated person’s personal and/or financial affairs. When that person has a large fortune, court battles frequently ensue, as was the case with Lee. Lee’s wife passed away in May of 2018, after which it became apparent that someone needed to step in and oversee Lee’s finances. Lee’s manager, Keya Morgan, took over that role at the time. By the fall of 2018, Lee’s former attorney would be in court petitioning for guardianship over Lee, alleging that Morgan was mismanaging Lee’s fortune, isolating Lee from friends and family, and a host of other things. Not surprisingly, Lee’s daughter J.C. also got involved in the litigation. J.C. also alleged wrongdoing on the part of Morgan, including embezzlement of $5 million of Lee’s money. At some point, accusations were even made that Lee’s blood was sold to fans, obviously without Lee’s knowledge or consent.
The Death of a Legend and the Lessons to Be Learned
With Lee’s death, some of the issues being litigated may be moot; however, not all of them are. On the contrary, much of the litigation surrounding Lee’s final year of life will continue in his absence. All the claims of mismanagement of assets, embezzlement, and even the sale of Lee’s blood will do nothing but further complicated what would already be a complicated probate process. The ongoing lawsuits are part of Lee’s estate. Moreover, the assets involved in the lawsuits must (somehow) be valued in order to properly calculate federal gift and estate taxes. Whether any of the lawsuits has merit or not, they will cost Lee’s estate, and therefore his beneficiaries, a small fortune in both time and money.
What could Lee have done to prevent the contentious and litigious nature of his last year? One thing he could have done is to plan ahead for the possibility of his own incapacity. If Lee’s estate plan would have included an incapacity planning component, someone of his choosing would have had the legal authority to step in and take control of his assets and make decisions for him, thereby preventing Morgan from ever getting his foot in the door. Planning ahead could potentially have saved Lee’s estate, and his beneficiaries, a considerable amount of time and money as well as serving to protect him from becoming the victim of elder abuse.
Contact Indianapolis Estate Planning Attorneys
For more information, please download our FREE estate planning worksheet. If you have questions or concerns about your own estate plan, or you are concerned about an elderly loved one, contact the experienced estate planning attorneys at Frank & Kraft by calling (317) 684-1100 to schedule an appointment.
Mr. Kraft assists clients primarily in the areas of estate planning and administration, Medicaid planning, federal and state taxation, real estate and corporate law, bringing the added perspective of an accounting background to his work.