Celebrity estate battles frequently serve as examples of the importance of having a well thought out estate plan in place, as well as what can happen when you don’t have a plan in place. The fact that there is yet another “celebrity” estate battle making the news, therefore, should come as no real surprise. The identity of the “celebrity,” however, may come as quite a shock. Charles Manson, who died in prison last year, left very few assets behind; yet, several people have thrown their hat into the ring as a contestant in the battle for his estate. The field of contestants was recently reduced to two by the court overseeing the probate of the Manson estate.
Charles Manson and the “Manson Family”
California in the 1960s was overrun with communes and die-hard hippies. Some of those communes turned into cults over time, including one led by the charismatic Charles Manson. Known simply as the “Manson Family,” the cult will be forever etched into the American psyche given that its leader went on to become one of the most well-known serial killers of all time. Manson’s followers, on his instruction, brutally murdered nine people at four different locations in 1969. Manson was eventually convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to life in prison, where he died on November 19, 2017. The battle over his estate started shortly thereafter.
Who Would Want Manson’s Few Estate Assets?
The logical question to ask is – who would want anything from Manson’s estate? Having spent the past several decades in prison, what could he possibly own worth fighting over? Right after Manson died, however, his body was put on ice as a court battle began over the right to decide what will happen to his remains and his estate. In March, a California court eventually ruled that Jason Freeman, Manson’s purported grandson, was the winner in the battle over the body. The issue of who will retain the rights to Manson’s estate remains pending. To begin with, there were actually four litigants!
What Are the Litigants Fighting Over?
If you are wondering what Manson could possibly have left behind worth fighting over, you are hardly alone in your confusion. It turns out though that there is quite a lucrative market for “murderabilia.” Just last year, a Victorian bed frame sold for $14,000 at auction because it was connected to one of the Manson murders. Collectors may be willing to pay top dollar for the few material items he did leave behind, said to include two guitars, his clothing, and artwork. What may really make Manson’s estate valuable, however, are the rights to his music. Prior to becoming a cult leader, Manson was actually a musician. Manson himself claimed to have written over 100 songs, two of which were commercially recorded.
Who Are the Litigants?
There were originally four contenders vying for the rights to Manson’s estate. The first, Michael Channels, is an avid collector and was pen pals with Manson for years. Channels claims that Manson executed a Will in 2002 naming Channels as his Executor, authorizing his body to be released to Channels, and bequeathing all of this property to Channels. Next is Jason Freeman, who is recognized as Manson’s grandson from one of Manson’s two acknowledged sons, Charles Manson, Jr. (who later changed his name and then committed suicide). Freeman was the winner in the battle over Manson’s remains. Third in line is Michael Brunner who is thought to be Manson’s son. Brunner was born in 1968 to Manson cult member Mary Brunner. Finally, Matthew Lentz also claims to be Manson’s biological son. Lentz was born in 1968 and raised by adoptive parents. Manson does have another acknowledged son, Charles Luther, who has remained out of the spotlight and is not a party to the litigation.
The Claims to Mason’s Estate
Both Michael Channels and Matthew Lentz have filed Wills, purportedly executed by Manson, with the Los Angeles court where his estate is being probated. The Channels Will was allegedly executed in 2002 while the Lentz Will was supposedly executed in 2017. Both Wills name the respective contender as the sole beneficiary of Manson’s estate. If both Wills were to be declared valid, the 2017 Will would prevail as it supersedes the 2002 Will; however, there are potential issues with both Wills so it is possible that neither will be declared valid. In the event that the court finds neither Will to be valid, the California intestate succession laws would determine how the estate is handled. That means Manson’s estate would be divided equally among his children. That, of course, brings us back to whether or not Brunner and/or Lentz can prove their relationship to Manson through DNA testing. (Remember, Charles Luther is an acknowledged son; however, he has not entered the litigation. If the estate is probated as an intestate estate, Luther will inherit by law without needing to initiate or join any litigation.) Even if Brunner and Lentz can prove they are the biological children of Manson, Lentz still has a problem. Under the California intestate succession laws, adoption severs the right to inherit. Therefore, Lentz only wins if the Will he submitted to the court prevails.
The Court Narrows the Field
Recently, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Clifford Klein granted Michael Brunner’s request that his petition be dismissed. He also said he was tossing Matt Lentz’s bid because the man waited too long to hire an attorney. The judge denied Lentz’s request for more time to get a lawyer. Klein scheduled a trial-setting conference for Dec. 14 on the remaining petitions filed by former Manson pen pal Michael Channels and Jason Freeman, who says he is Manson’s grandson.
Contact Illinois Probate Lawyers
For additional information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have questions or concerns regarding a probate dispute, contact the experienced probate lawyers at Nash Bean Ford & Brown, LLP by calling 309-944-2188 to schedule your appointment today.