Charles Manson estate dispute offers broader lessons


Matthew Urback Head Shot

The dispute over the estate of Charles Manson offers lessons for testators with less controversial backgrounds, Toronto litigator Matthew Urback tells

According to a report by NBC News, the fate of the notorious killer’s estate remains up in the air almost a year after his death, while a number of alleged heirs fight over the right to administer it.

While the law in California, where the Manson fight is playing out, differs from that in Ontario, it still offers guidance to future testators here, says Urback, an associate with Shibley Righton LLP.

“You’re always better off leaving clear and unequivocal instructions about your estate plan,” he says. “You know better than anyone what you want to happen to your assets, but if you don’t leave clear instructions, it leaves your loved ones with a bit of a guessing game to figure out what you intended, when you’re no longer around to clear up any confusion.

“The problem in this case is that nothing was clear. Manson had a will, but the circumstances around how it was made were a bit fuzzy,” Urback adds.

Manson died in November 2017 from heart failure at the age of 83, after spending almost 50 years in jail and having seen multiple bids for parole denied.

According to Forbes magazine, the claimants in the Manson case include a longtime collector of memorabilia related to the cult leader’s crimes, who alleges Manson signed a will naming him executor following their meeting in prison in 2002. The will reportedly granted the man Manson’s image and publishing rights, as well as proceeds from any royalties earned from the convicted murderer’s music.

Another man, who claims to be Manson’s grandson, disputed the validity of the 2002 will, while a third man, who claims to be Manson’s biological son, says he has another will signed in 2017 naming him as the sole beneficiary of his father’s estate.

The dispute even led to Manson’s body sitting on ice for four months while the parties fought it out over whether he should be buried or cremated, says the Forbes report.

Urback says he’s not surprised to see Manson’s estate attracting so much interest from potential beneficiaries, despite his infamy.

“One of the trends we see all the time, and that transcends the whole industry, is that money trumps all,” he says. “If there’s a chance of getting a little more money in your pocket, some people will do anything to make sure it happens.”

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