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Gloves Come off as Muhammad Ali’s Family Fight over the Boxing Legend’s $80 Million Estate

Muhammad Ali’s family are poised to fight over his huge boxing fortune, with nine children, three ex wives, his widow and a brother all set to enter the ring for a share of the legend’s million dollar estate.

Already his brother Rahman and son Muhammad Jnr. are at loggerheads with his current wife Lonnie, fearing they may have been left out of the will.

The boxing legend was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jnr on 17 January, 1942 before he took the name Muhammad Ali after converting to Islam in 1964, soon after which he claimed the world heavy weight title with a monumental upset of the incumbent champion, Sonny Liston.

Muhammad Ali dazzled his fans across the world with slick moves in the ring which matched his wit and engaging persona outside it, and his now famous quote that he could “Float like a Butterfly, Sting like a Bee”.

In 2006 he actually sold 80 per cent of the rights to his image for $50 million, including the rights to trademarks “Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Bee,” “Thrilla In Manila,” and “Greatest Of All Time.” The rights are currently owned by the same company that licenses the images of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. However, the family still has input into how his image is used and has been very selective about licensing deals. Among only a few dozen companies allowed to use Ali’s image are Adidas, and an electronics company for video games in which players can box the champion.

His career spanned more than 21 years from 1960 to 1981 before he retired with a record of 56 wins and 5 loses, including an historic bout named “Rumble in the Jungle” against George Foreman in 1974.

Ali’s refusal to serve in the Vietnam War saw him prosecuted for draft evasion, and led him to effectively being banned from boxing for three years whilst in his prime. But Ali held firm to his beliefs and eventually earned accolades as a civil rights activist. Eventually the US Supreme Court overturned his conviction for draft dodging in 1971.

He received the highest US civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2005 and was chosen to light the Olympic torch in 1996, his hands trembling due to Parkinsons Disease – a poignant moment for the sports world.

After a small family funeral last week, Ali’s coffin was transported on Friday through the streets of Louisville Kentucky, before a private burial at Cave Hill Cemetery.

However, the battle for the 74-year-old’s estate could begin this week if a will is lodged in court. But with his blended family of multiple wives and children any payout is likely to be delayed if it is contested and paternity tests are needed.

Ali wed his first wife, Chicago cocktail waitress Sonji Roy, in 1964 but they later divorced within 17 months without producing any children. The marriage reportedly ended because she objected to the constraints of being a Muslim wife.

Next came Belinda Boyd, who had caught Ali’s wandering eye when she was 14 and working in a Kentucky bakery. They married in 1967, when she was 17 and he was 27. She dutifully changed her name to Khalilah Ali and they had three daughters – Maryum and twins Jamillah and Rasheda.

During the tumultuous marriage, Ali had numerous affairs, two of which led to the birth of another two daughters. In 1975, Ali strayed again, beginning a relationship with Veronica Porsche who had worked as a glamorous ‘poster girl’ to spice up his fight against Joe Frazier.

After Ali married Veronica, Khalilah was quickly written out of his life and reduced to very modest circumstances. Today, she works as a hospital canteen waitress in Florida.

Ali’s marriage to Veroncia produced two more daughters, Hana and Laila, but by 1986 she, too, had been swept aside. That year, as Ali’s Parkinson Disease began to take hold, he married wife number four, Lonnie Williams, who had been a childhood neighbour, albeit 16 years his junior.

Inevitably, Ali’s life was complicated by claims he fathered other children. They included Kiiursti Mensah Ali, now 35, whose mother claims she had a 20-year affair with the boxer which started when she was 17.

Meanwhile Lonnie and Ali adopted a baby boy, Asaad, and Lonnie became Ali’s full-time carer. But her motives for such self-sacrifice remain hotly debated within the family.

Some people are adamant that Lonnie rescued Ali, others say she poisoned his relationships with the rest of his family, many of whom were seen as spongers leeching money off him. Ali Jnr, as well as the boxer’s brother, are seen in this category.

For both his brother Rahman and Muhammad Ali Jnr, the boxer’s sole biological son, have already accused others in his extended family of being anything but ‘humanitarian’ towards them, cruelly leaving them in varying degrees of financial hardship as Ali and his controlling fourth wife, Lonnie, lived in the lap of luxury.

People blindsided by uneven, unfair or unexpectedly small inheritances from a loved one’s estate often wonder whether they should challenge the will in court. The lost assets likely aren’t the only reason they’re upset—distress over the deceased loved one’s choices about how to divide the assets can become intertwined with the hurt and anger they feel at being treated unfairly.

It is distressing enough that a family member has passed away without there also being arguments about who should get what out of the deceased’s person’s estate.

Fighting estate disputes in court does involve a significant amount of time, money and emotion. More often than not, it involves the airing of dirty family laundry in open court.

Some types of disputes that may arise in an Estate include:

  • The Will intended to be relied upon is not the last Will of the deceased.
  • The deceased did not have the testamentary capacity (mental ability) to have prepared the Will relied upon.
  • Parts of the Will have been changed after the deceased had signed it.
  • The Will was signed by the deceased under undue influence.
  • The Will relied upon had been revoked by the deceased.
  • The provisions of the Will are unclear and/or cannot be understood.
  • The deceased did not make adequate provision for a particular person within their Will (a Family Provision claim).

In all types of disputes, the case will depend heavily upon particular factual circumstances and accounts of certain events. So, it is important that detailed evidence is available to substantiate a claim on an estate no matter the type of dispute. As the Executor of the Estate they are responsible for defending any claim brought against the Estate. The Executor must either settle the claim or defend the Will and its existing provisions.

It is best to have an estate dispute addressed and resolved before the assets of the estate are distributed. This avoids difficulties that may arise if it is necessary to redistribute the estate’s assets or the assets have been dissipated by beneficiaries.

In each state and territory there are strict time limits within which you are able to bring a claim on an estate, usually measured from the date of death of the deceased. There are also specified classes of “eligible persons” who can make a claim on an estate.

There is no magic formula for the calculation of a claimant’s entitlement to an estate. It must be remembered that simply qualifying as an “eligible person” does not automatically guarantee that the court will vary the provisions of the Will.

It is advantageous negotiating an out of court settlement as it provides the executors and competing beneficiaries an opportunity to negotiate a final, mutually acceptable agreement which can be documented in the form of either a “Deed of Settlement” or “Deed of Family Arrangement”. This agreement documents how the parties have agreed to resolve all claims and disputes on the estate together with a release to each other that no further claims will be made against the Estate.

Settling out of court will allow the parties too:

  • Maintain control over the outcome rather than a decision imposed upon them by a Court.
  • Minimise the legal costs and potentially avoid further family conflict within the court system.
  • Reach an agreement faster in a less emotional process resulting in a better opportunity to re-build family and other relationships.

No doubt over the coming weeks we learn more about who will be putting on the gloves and stepping into the ring to fight for a share of the great Muhammad Ali’s fortune and who in the words of the great man will “Float like a butterfly, Sting like a Bee”. The fight is certainly set to spark one of the most bitter contests the Ali clan has ever seen.

Deciding to contest a will doesn’t mean you are being greedy or ungrateful. It can often be motivated by a range of factors, including a desire to ensure a loved one has their final wishes carried out. Genuine need or financial hardship for those close to the deceased can also be taken into account.

Contact one of our experienced Estate Litigation Lawyers from Attwood Marshall Lawyers today before making any rash decisions, as it is important you first obtain proper legal advice on your options about whether to Contest a Will so your rights are fully protected.

Attwood Marshall Lawyers have a dedicated team of Wills & Estates lawyers that specialise in estate planning and estate litigation. Contact Melissa Tucker on 07 5562 2498 or our Department Manager Donna Tolley on direct line 07 5506 8241 or freecall 1800 621 071 for a free initial consultation.

 

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Melissa Tucker

Melissa Tucker

  • Senior Associate
  • Wills and Estates
  • Direct line: (07) 5553 5803
  • Mobile: 0411 046 805
Attwood Marshall Lawyers

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