An Update on the Ernie Banks Estate Battle

On September 25, a settlement conference in the battle between the widow of baseball legend Ernie Banks and his longtime caretaker will be held in an attempt to resolve the division of his estate. This will be the first time that Elizabeth Banks and the caretaker, Regina Rice, will be in the same room. Banks, who died of a heart attack at age 83 in January, named Rice as the sole beneficiary in his will. Cook County probate Judge James Riley is holding a closed-door meeting in the hopes that a settlement will head off an expensive and lengthy legal battle that will no doubt drain the estate.

Reports on the latest in the battle over Ernie Banks’ estate can be found in The Chicago Tribune’s recent article “Ernie Banks case: Two sides to try to settle dispute about Cub great’s will”.

Elizabeth Banks, who was estranged from Ernie when he died, alleged in a recent court filing that her husband had been diagnosed with dementia days before Rice had him sign a will in October 2014. The new will cut out his family and left the whole ballgame to Rice. Rice said that Ernie entrusted her to execute the will and that he wanted to make sure his fourth wife didn’t get any of his estate. Court records show that Ernie sent her a “cease and desist” letter in 2013 requiring her to stop claiming any right to his personal or business dealings.

Despite both sides pitching heated accusations, Rice’s attorney told the judge that she wanted to go ahead with a settlement conference due to the limited assets in the estate. The attorney said that it was in everyone’s best interest to resolve the estate in “a peaceful manner.”

Rice filed an inventory of Ernie’s personal property earlier this year. This consisted primarily of things from his rented condo and storage containers in Chicago and California. The list included Banks’ original Negro League contract from 1950, a Rolex watch, his Hall of Fame ring, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. There are also other assets in a private trust set up in Rice’s name under the terms of the will.

Banks’ twin sons, Joey and Jerry, were not present for the legal proceedings. The two publicly accused Rice of taking advantage of their father’s frail condition and vowed to fight her in court when the will became public.

The probate judge said the deadline for them to file the paperwork to be participants in the case was approaching. However, if the case settles before that time, Ernie’s sons wouldn’t be able to contest any award they were given. The judge also approved a spousal award of $20,000 for Elizabeth Banks, which is the minimum amount allowed under the state’s probate law. Rice’s attorneys objected because she hadn’t shown that she relied on Ernie for financial support at the time of his death, but the judge said the law was clear.

Estate contests are messy. You can help avoid them by getting quality estate planning advice and a sound strategy from an estate planning attorney.

Reference: Chicago Tribune (August 6, 2015) “Ernie Banks case: Two sides to try to settle dispute about Cub great’s will”