Bob Marley's Estate Planning Battle Continues to Explode 33 Years Later, Claims

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Bob Marley taught us not to worry about a thing. Unfortunately, his heirs and relatives did not learn. explains how one of the most complex probate cases in history could have been avoided.

Bob Marley Estate Planning Disaster

Bob Marley Estate Planning Disaster

At no time would Marley have acknowledged mortality with an irrevocable trust, and he would have avoided the endless probate, copyright and estate court battles we see today.

On the same day that many families around the world gathered to celebrate Mother's Day, fans of reggae music took a moment to solemnly observe the 33rd anniversary of the sad passing of the most celebrated Jamaican musician of all time (1). Meanwhile, barristers and solicitors in England were preparing to battle over intellectual property created by Robert Nesta Marley, who shuffled off this mortal coil on May 11th, 1981. The case will essentially be a continuum of Cayman Music, Inc. v. Marley, 149 A.D.2d 383 (1989) in the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York (2), and it is expected to be a landmark case for music publishing.

As reported by The Independent (UK), ownership of a few of the songs written and recorded by Bob Marley will be argued at the Chancery Division of the High Court in London. Two of Marley's best-known songs, No Woman, No Cry and War, are at stake. Queen Counsel Richard Meade will rule on the matter of music label Cayman Music versus Blue Mountain Music (3).

“Marley was a true musical pioneer and a national hero to his native Jamaica, a country he loved deeply,” explains Rocco Beatrice, Managing Director of Estate Street Planners, LLC, which is the parent company of “In terms of musical estates, this is one of the most lucrative; unfortunately, it has also been the most contentious.”

Marley lost his life to malignant melanoma as he was returning to Jamaica from Germany, where he had been receiving medical treatment (4). He is remembered not only for his acclaimed musical legacy that started with the Wailers and continued with an incredibly successful solo career. He is also a central figure in Rastafarian faith and culture, a spiritual way of life he practiced and preached through his music.

According to a 2012 Forbes article on this contested estate, the Rastafarian view of death and the afterlife precluded Marley from estate planning (6). This is a faith that does not acknowledge mortality and does not observe the moment of death with funeral rites. In the Rastafarian belief, life is eternal and reincarnation is imminent (5). “Marley did not leave a will for religious reasons,” explains Mr. Beatrice, “he was right about celebrating eternal life through his music, but he inadvertently created a lengthy probate mess that is bound to continue for many decades. This could have been avoided with an irrevocable trust in the proper jurisdiction.” A 2011 report by the Jamaica Gleaner on the initial and questionable administration of the Marley estate by his widow Rita and the Mutual Security Trust Company Ltd confirmed that Rastafarians do not leave wills (7).

Mr. Beatrice is referring to the infamous and multiple lawsuits, court proceedings and assorted money-grabs that have been fought in courtrooms in Jamaica, the United Kingdom and the United States. Family feuds over cases of intestacy clog the dockets of probate courts around the world, and according to Forbes, the fight over the Marley estate has been as legendary as his musical legacy. Marley's net worth in life reached an estimated $30 million, but the value of his estate has ballooned over the years; in 2012 alone, the intellectual property and various business ventures of the Marley estate produced about $18 million estimates (6).

Among those who have petitioned the court for a piece of the Marley estate are his widow Rita, his dozen children, assorted grandchildren, long-lost relatives, band mates, musicians, business associates, and flimflam artists (6). All this animosity runs counter to Marley's teachings of peace, unity and social justice; after all, this is a man who was awarded the United Nations Medal of Peace in 1978. “All these legal disputes would have certainly seem trifling to Marley; the thing is, they could have been prevented with estate planning that respected his spiritual worldview,” explains Mr. Beatrice.

Here's Mr. Beatrice's further opinion on the matter: “We can understand how a last will and testament would be out of line with Marley's Rastafarian beliefs. A will is a document that certainly acknowledges mortality. An irrevocable trust, on the other hand, is more in line with the construct of eternal life due to its potential perpetuity. For Rastafarian clients, we would recommend irrevocable trusts instead of wills for the purpose of estate planning. You see, the nature of irrevocable trusts is that they live on in permanence. It works like this: The grantor establishes a legal structure whereby he or she declares that all property and assets are deposited in trust for the benefits of others. Let's say Marley wanted his widow Rita to enjoy and manage the proceeds of his songs until his many children are of age. He then could have determined the distribution of his estate among his children as they turn 18 or any age. If we wanted to be even more creative, we could create instructions in the trust agreement leaving the corpus of the trust inside and instruct the trust to purchase items the beneficiaries need and could use while maintaining title in the trust (home, car, wedding, medical attention). This would preserve his legacy and at the same time provide for the beneficiaries without them risking the assets foolishly to lawsuits, divorce, etc.”

Mr. Beatrice continues: “Aside from being a brilliant musician and a kind soul, Marley was also a smart businessman. His numerous ventures could have been deposited in trust for the benefit of his family or others. With an irrevocable trust, he would have still been in control of his intellectual property and assets, which he could have placed under the management of a trustee of his choice. His sizable net worth calls for a professional, third-party trustee; ideally the same firm that created the irrevocable trust.”

To summarize, Mr. Beatrice explained his opinion on the legal protections extended by irrevocable trusts: “At no time would Marley have acknowledged mortality with an irrevocable trust, and he would have avoided the endless probate, copyright and estate court battles we see today. When an irrevocable trust is challenged in court, judges tend to look at the instrument and make the plaintiffs clear about the intentions of the grantor. Estate challenges come about whenever there is a chance of ambiguity, such as in cases of intestacy; these matters are generally not a problem when irrevocable trusts are in place.”

About Estate Street Partners (
For 30 years, Estate Street Partners has been helping clients protect assets from divorce and frivolous lawsuits while eliminating estate taxes and probate as well as ensuring superior Medicaid asset protection for both parents and children with their Premium UltraTrust® Irrevocable Trust. Call (888) 938-5872 to learn more.


1 – 5/9/14
2 – 5/13/14
3 – 5/14/14
4 – 5/13/14
5 – 5/14/14
6 – 5/12/11
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Rocco Beatrice

Rocco Beatrice
Irrevocable Trust Asset Protection
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