We are talking about a dispute between the children of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. over two of his most valued possessions: his traveling bible and his Nobel Peace Prize medal. In the early ’90s, King’s four children and his widow formed a corporation to manage King’s estate, appointing themselves as the estate’s board of directors.
The current debate stems from an agreement among those five original directors to sign over to the estate any items they personally inherited from King.
That was in 1995. A few years ago, following the deaths of King’s widow and one of his daughters, his two sons found a buyer for the bible and the Nobel medal. They asked their sister Bernice to make good on the 1995 agreement and to turn over the two items, then in her possession, to the estate. She refused.
As we said in our last post, nothing is ever as simple as it looks. In January, the Los Angeles Times reported on a hearing in the matter, and the story illustrates just how complicated the issues really are. Bernice King maintained that she did not inherit the Nobel medal from her father. Rather, she said, her father had given it to her mother as a gift; Bernice now controls the disposition of the medal because she is the executor of her mother’s estate.
The question is one of ownership, the brothers said. At the hearing, the parties’ attorneys disagreed on whether Bernice must prove that she owns the medal or whether her brothers must prove that someone else (the estate) owns it.
Between January and May, the siblings attempted to negotiate a settlement. When it seemed that the parties were at an impasse, Bernice’s attorney asked the court to direct them to mediation. Hearing no objection from the other side, the judge did so.
The media revealed last month that the mediator the parties agreed to was Former President Jimmy Carter. Carter, now 91, issued a statement in early October that negotiations were proceeding and a settlement was in sight. After that, the media apparently lost interest. There have been no reports of new developments.
Mediation is an important alternative to litigation, even for estates with lower profiles than King’s and with mediators just as skilled — though perhaps not quite as famous — as the former president.
Source: WTOL, “Carter to mediate dispute over MLK Bible, Nobel Peace Prize,” Kate Brumback, Oct. 5, 2015