Author of ‘Madeline’ books learns lesson in estate planning

Published 29 Nov 2013

A recent article in Forbes shed light on how important it is for anyone to have a strong succession plan in place, and how failing to do so can lead to contesting wills cases and inheritance disputes that can become extremely complex.

The article looked into the estate plan of Ludwig Bemelmans, the author of the wildly successful children’s book series Madeline, which has delighted children and sold well all over the world for decades.

Mr Bemelman was never an overly wealthy man, with his estate estimated to be worth about US$200,000 when he died in 1962. Although he never focused on retirement savings during his lifetime, he reportedly used to tell his wife that Madeline would take care of both of them as the years went on.

And while the author’s prediction that Madeline would become an international sensation was correct, providing plenty of income for the family, it appears a lack of clear succession planning may mean the family’s inheritance from Madeline’s brand could become uncertain in time.

The Bemelman family could soon face inheritance disputes

Currently, the Madeline brand is in the hands of Mr Bemelman’s youngest grandson, John Bemelmans Marciano, who is now writing and illustrating the books.

However, the intellectual property rights still officially belong to Barbara Bemelmans – the only child of the author. The rights to the books were shared between Barbara and her mother – Mr Bemelman’s wife whom Madeline was named after – but since the real-life Madeleine’s death in 2004, they’ve belonged solely to Barbara.

In the current situation, Mr Marciano, who currently has the copyright to all of his Madeline sequels but cannot collect royalties from books his grandfather wrote, could potentially lose his right to royalties of his own books when his mother dies.

Forbes pointed out that at this point, Barbara will need to decide if the rights and leftover estate of the original Madeline franchise will be divided up equally between her three sons, or if it should reflect their role in developing the brand over the years, which has been vastly different between the sons.

The issue raises serious questions. In New South Wales, if a family member feels they aren’t given the proper share of an estate, they can file contesting wills claims to argue why they should be included in the will or given a bigger share of the sum.

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