Steinbeck Estate Suit Opens This Week in Manhattan

2:11 pm Uncategorized

Starting Friday, a Manhattan federal appeals court will hear a suit brought by Thom Steinbeck and Blake Smyle – eldest son and granddaughter, respectively, of author John Steinbeck — against the estate of the author’s late wife claiming that she cheated them of royalties and copyright control of his novels and screenplays.

Elaine Steinbeck, who died in 2003, was the third and last wife of John Steinbeck, who died in 1968.  In addition to leaving her with an estate worth an estimated $1 million, Steinbeck’s will designated Elaine and an attorney as the beneficiaries of any future profits from his works.

Surprisingly, Steinbeck’s will did not mention what was to become of the copyrights for his works.  However, under copyright law at the time of his death, a writer’s children and spouses were entitled to interests in the renewal of copyrights.  Steinbeck’s two sons sued Elaine in 1981, claiming she had not furnished them with royalties from renewed copyrights.  That suit was eventually settled.

Upon Elaine’s death, her estate passed to her two sisters, a daughter from a previous marriage, and a number of grandchildren.  In 2004, Thom Steinbeck and Blake Smyle sued Elaine’s estate again, alleging she had improperly exercised renewal rights for John Steinbeck’s work and that the heirs had not been properly notified of their interests.  That suit was dismissed last year, and is now on appeal.

No one wants heirs to waste time and resources fighting over provisions of a will that could have been avoided through careful estate planning, especially 42 years after a death.  Contact our California estate planning law firm to make sure all your wishes have been made clear and are legally binding.

Your California legal and financial planning experts are at your service; Contact us today.

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