When Rosa Park’s passed away in 2005 at age 92, she had a small estate but left an enormous and indelible mark on history. Before her death, Rosa Park’s created an estate plan that assigned all of her personal belongings to a charitable organization called the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development.

A close friend and a retired judge were named to oversee the estate. Parks also named her close friend as a beneficiary to receive 90 percent of the estate’s royalties. Parks’ nieces and nephews were assigned the remaining 10 percent.

Parks’ nieces and nephews disagreed with the structure of Parks’ will and trust and challenged the estate plan in probate. The nieces and nephews argued that Parks’ close friend had undue influence over Parks in the creation of the estate plan. Parks’ close friend denied the accusation.

Before the probate case went to trial the parties settled with a confidential settlement agreement leaving the close friend and retired judge as executors of the estate, but the nieces and nephews were given additional rights and royalties. The case did not end, and a dispute over fees brought the case to a state appellate court.

At the state appellate court, an attorney representing Parks’ close friend and the charitable organization was accused of violating the confidential settlement agreement. As a result, a judge ordered that the close friend and the organization forfeit the rights to Parks’ estate. The judge’s ruling was in direct opposition to the direction provided by Parks’ in her estate plan.

Fortunately, the case went to the state’s Supreme Court and the court ruled that the appellate court’s decision was erroneous. As a result the close friend and retired judge were restored as executors and Parks’ estate plan directions were reinstated.

To help ensure that your estate plans are not challenged with claims of undue influence, develop an estate plan early.