Today marks the 21st anniversary of the death of Christopher Wallace, or probably better known to you as legendary rap artist Notorious BIG or Biggie. Wallace died at the age of 24 after being shot in Los Angeles. The controversy surrounding his death continues to garner media attention to this day and is perhaps best left to be explored in that forum. The focus of today's blog is on Biggie's estate and lessons to be learned from his untimely demise.
Life after death: how Biggie's estate carries on his legacy
Biggie was survived by his wife, R&B artist Faith Evans, their son, Christopher Wallace Jr. (four months old when Biggie died) and T'yanna, his daughter from a prior relationship (three years old at his date of death). He was also outlived by his mother, Violetta Wallace.
With a blended family, minor children, a considerable net worth, extensive intellectual property, multiple lawsuits and an undeniable legacy, this has all the makings of a juicy estate. So, how did it all play out?
In our research, we were not able to find out if Biggie died with or without a will. However, based on various media reports it appears that his mother and Faith Evans are co-personal representatives of his estate. They also appear to have a tight-knit team of advisors including Violetta's lawyer and Biggie's former manager and a merchandising manager.
The primary motivator behind the personal representatives' administration of the estate has been to preserve Biggie's legacy. The personal representatives have partnered with a number of stakeholders to license Biggie's image, music and lyrics for various projects. The estate also authorized the 2009 feature film, Notorious, and recently released a documentary and a compilation album. The personal representatives' prudent management of the estate is said to have increased its net worth from $20 million at the time of Biggie's death to an estimated posthumous value of $160 million.
While it seems that Biggie's family has escaped litigation among themselves, the estate has had to deal with the legal system on a number of occasions. There was the recent dispute with Kendall and Kylie Jenner over the unauthorized use of Biggie's image on their t-shirt line , a wrongful death lawsuit and a request for declaratory relief for the use of a sample on one of his songs are some examples.
What would happen in Alberta?
Assuming that Biggie died without a will and was living in Alberta at the time of his death, here is how his estate administration may have played out under Alberta laws:
- As his spouse, Faith Evans, would have priority to apply to administer the Estate, but the Court's primary consideration would be to appoint the best person for the job;
- Because both of his children were not the product of his union with Faith, she would have inherited 50% of his estate, with each of his children receiving 25%;
- Faith and each of the children would have the ability to apply to the Court to request a larger share of the estate if they could show that the existing shares did not adequately provide for their maintenance and support;
- Biggie's children's shares of the estate would have been administered by the Office of the Public Trustee and paid out to them when they respectively turned 18 years old, regardless of the value of the shares or how irresponsible they were; and
- Biggie's daughter's biological mother would have been her default guardian, but the Court would have the jurisdiction to appoint someone else if it was in T'yanna's best interests. Faith would have remained Christopher Jr.'s legal guardian.
Although this blog is less formal than some of the other articles you will find here, there are still valuable lessons to be learned. Among the many stories immortalized through his music, a part of Biggie's story to tell is that:
- Every adult should have a will, but especially people with minor children and blended families whose family dynamics are usually more complicated;
- By using testamentary trusts, a will allows you to better direct how your beneficiaries will be able to use their inheritance to ensure that the legacy you leave will be used responsibly;
- Artists, musicians and other creative types should consider how they want their creative products handled after their death and should set out their instructions about limits on their use (for an illustration of potential difficulties, see our friends Hull & Hull and their article about Harper Lee's estate and controversies surrounding her written works); and
- Personal representatives should work with a team of trusted professional advisers to guide them through the estate administration process in all cases, but particularly when there are potentially contentious issues or significant and unique assets.
Thank you for reading and remember to spread love, it's the Brooklyn way.
Predrag (Peter) Tomic is a wills and estates lawyer with a focus on complex estate and trust litigation, estate planning and probate matters.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.