Float like a Butterfly, Sting like a Contested Estate: Muhammad Ali’s Unhappy Heirs

It seems that Muhammad Ali’s estate is destined for trouble, similar to other celebrity estates that we have covered on this blog recently. It is unknown if the boxing legend died with a will, but even if he did, a will contest may be likely. Forbes reports that Mr. Ali died with an estate worth in between $50 and $80 million, had nine recognized children, four different marriages, and struggled with a debilitating disease that affects the mind. These are the circumstances that set the stage for a drawn out estate contest.

Troublesome Children

The large amount of children Mr. Ali had, as well as his four marriages, makes the number of people who may have an interest in contesting Mr. Ali’s estate quite high. One child in particular, Muhammad Ali Jr., has been estranged from his father since Mr. Ali’s fourth and final marriage in 1986 and has been cut off from the family fortune ever since. Ali Jr. in particular blames Mr. Ali’s fourth wife for driving him and his father apart.

Children who do not inherit from their parent’s estate have a financial incentive to contest wills. If a child brings a successful claim against the validity of a will, the deceased will be deemed to have died intestate. This causes the estate to be distributed as if the deceased had died intestate. Bringing a successful challenge in this instance would allow a child who was disinherited to inherit under statutory intestate law.

A Question of Competency

Mr. Ali had a very public with Parkinson’s disease, going all the way back to 1984 when it was first diagnosed. Parkinson’s disease affects the brain, causing degeneration in motor functions gradually over a long period of time until it can eventually cause impaired decision making, memory loss, and dementia.  

Degenerative diseases that affect the brain like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s can pose extreme estate planning problems. In order for a valid will to be created and executed, the testator must be mentally competent. Even if Mr. Ali has a will and had other estate planning done to protect from will contests, the specter of claims of mental incompetency and undue influence will be hovering over probate proceedings. The further away from his initial diagnosis in 1984 and the closer to his death estate planning decisions were made, the more likely a court is to find that the former boxer was incompetent.


Ballooning Estate Value

Although Mr. Ali’s assets are valued at most at $80 million right now, chances are that similar to other celebrities who have recently passed, the value of his image and publicity rights will skyrocket. Although $80 million is nothing to scoff at, whoever can gain control of Mr. Ali’s legacy will be guaranteed millions more.

Of course, all of this speculation may be for naught. Rumor has it that Mr. Ali passed with not only a will but a very complex estate plan designed to protect his heirs and his legacy from any challenges that may arise. However even the best planning can fail to plan for a contingency, and just because a person has a good plan in place does not stop a disinherited family member from attempting to get a piece of the estate.

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