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Copyright issues at heart of estate case

When estate administration or probate matters involve creative assets, complex questions and disputes can arise, even years after the estate appeared to have been closed. One example that is playing out in courts in another state involves iconic blues musician Muddy Waters.

According to reports, in 1983, when Muddy Waters passed away, his estate fell into the control of his manager. The manager became the estate's executor and was in charge of disbursing royalty payments and other assets to the musician's family. When the manager himself passed away, the duties of executor passed to an organization that administered the manager's estate. This occurred in Feb. 2015.

Muddy Waters' widow and his daughter have filed proceedings in court to make a change to this arrangement. According to filings, they want to reopen the estate. They also want the musician's daughter named as the new executor.

Reports are that the daughter and widow have received royalty payments regularly since the musician's death, but court filings indicate that the manager missed making a royalty payment late in 2014. Other reports state that the daughter is claiming the manager failed to provide appropriate accounting for the estate.

For the most part, the widow and daughter are contesting control of the musician's creative assets, since the estate was closed in the 1980s and all other assets were distributed at that time. Understanding how creative assets, and details such as copyright or trademark, play a role in estate administration can be important to anyone who creates art at any time or owns a business with a brand. Seeking assistance to ensure estate documents will be controlled appropriately into the future can help keep heirs and family members out of lengthy probate battles or later court disputes.

Source: NBC Chicago, "Heirs of Chicago Blues Legend Muddy Waters Go to Court Over Copyright," April. 16, 2015

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