If an estate or probate dispute arises, it typically comes up during the original administration of the estate in probate court. That is by no means the only time it can occur, however, as the recent dispute involving the estate Al Hendrix, father of guitar legend Jimi Hendrix, demonstrates.
Popular artists and entertainers leave a legacy behind — the legacy of their art, but also the legacy of its value. A trademark from a star’s company or the copyright on a song or performance doesn’t just disappear after a star’s death. In many cases, the estate continues to own the copyright or trademark until such time as it legally times out. In others, ownership is by a trust, which can dramatically increase the period during which the copyright can be enforced.
Jimi Hendrix died in 1970 without a will which, in the state where he lived, meant that his property went to his father Al, leaving Jimi’s brother Leon out. Leon might of inherited the remainder of Jimi’s estate when Al died in 2003, but instead Jimi’s stepsister Janie took over management of the Jimi Hendrix music catalog, limited trademarks and property Al had inherited.
According to the current lawsuit, Janie acted unilaterally in that regard. Moreover, according to Leon she” spent millions of dollars from the Hendrix estate to successfully fight off any and all challenges to Al’s will from Leon and to completely exclude Leon and his children from receiving anything from Jimi’s estate.”
Next, Janie accused Leon and his company of infringing Jimi Hendrix trademarks on products including music speakers, a line of apparel, cannabis-infused products and smoking materials, video games and even hot sauce. As he is the oldest living blood relative of Jimi Hendrix, Leon considered this legitimate, but Janie obtained a 2006 court ruling that there is “no right of publicity descended to defendants when Jimi Hendrix died without a will in 1970.”
For his part, Leon countersued Janie. After she called him a “serial infringer,” he claimed she had defamed him and his company, intentionally interfered in his legitimate business on behalf of himself and Jimi’s nieces and nephews, and violated state consumer law. He is seeking damages for defamation, trade libel, tortious interference with contract, and state consumer law violations.
Jimi Hendrix’s brother and step-sister have apparently spent more than 45 years in bitter litigation over a variety of issues — in large part because Jimi neglected to set up a will or estate plan. Wouldn’t you like to save your family the trouble?