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Estate of Ernie Banks “Mr. Cub”

Malm & LaFave, S.C. April 24, 2024

Attorney Stephanie Shelton is a generational die-hard Chicago Cubs fan, so it is only fitting we discuss the contested estate of Ernest “Ernie” Banks, or, more famously, Mr. Cub.

Ernie Banks was a beloved Chicago Cubs player from 1953 to his retirement in 1971. Mr. Banks sadly passed away on January 23, 2015. In the years that followed his death, Mr. Banks’ estate endured heavy scrutiny and legal battles between his family and longtime caretaker, Regina Rice. This blog post will detail the facts of the case, known contents of his estate plan that was challenged, and how you can avoid these issues with your estate plan.

Facts of the Case

Shortly after his death in 2015, Ernie’s estranged wife, Elizabeth Banks, petitioned the court for a probate to facilitate the distribution of his estate. Before the probate could be opened, however, Ernie’s long-time caregiver, Regina Rice, filed his will with the court. This will came as a shock to Ernie’s wife and children, as they were unaware it existed. The terms of the estate plan, which also included a trust, left everything to Ms. Rice and completely disinherited his wife and children. Ms. Rice was also named as the trustee and inherited the sole rights to Ernie’s publicity, image, likeness, merchandising, etc.

Ernie’s wife, Elizabeth, contested the will. She claimed it was signed under undue influence and coercion. The documents was only signed mere months before his death, and Ernie had progressive dementia at the end of his life. These factors, according to his wife, made him unable to competently sign an estate plan. Though the competency requirements for signing estate planning documents vary by each state, statutes generally require an individual singing the documents to be aware of their assets, the beneficiaries, and people they are naming as agents under their Powers of Attorney. Despite the undue influence claims made against Ms. Rice, the judge deemed Ernie’s will valid in the State of Illinois during the original proceeding in 2015. Only Ernie and Ms. Rice know the true reason this estate plan was signed.

2019 Proceedings and Conclusion:

The case was quiet until 2019 when Ernie’s wife, Elizabeth, filed another action to contest the will as new facts of the case had come to light. It was alleged that Ernie’s will may have been incorrectly dated upon its execution and tampered with after he signed it. The rest of the facts of the case and proceedings remained confidential from the public but were undoubtedly difficult for the family and individuals involved. Finally, in 2023, almost 8 years after Ernie’s passing, a settlement was reached between Ernie Banks’ family and Ms. Rice.

How can you Avoid this

Post-death legal proceedings can be expensive, but there are many steps you can take to potentially avoid this as outlined below

  • Draft a comprehensive estate plan. An experienced estate planning attorney can help determine which documents would be beneficial for your specific situation. Comprehensive Powers of Attorney are also important to appoint agents that act on your behalf should you become incapacitated. Though these documents are available on line for you to draft independently, contacting an estate planning attorney can ensure the documents are properly drafted and all your assets are properly titled.

  • Discuss your estate plan with your family, beneficiaries, and Power of Attorney agents. If these individuals are aware of your wishes and existence of your estate plan, they may be more likely to follow your post-death requests. If Mr. Banks had discussed his estate plan and beneficiary choices with his loved ones, these legal proceedings may have been avoided. Oftentimes, simply an explanation of your decision can help your loved ones understand your wishes.

  • Update your estate plan frequently and after any major life event. Life is always changing, so it is important your estate plan changes with you. Marriage, divorce, having children, buying a house, and more are all events that could significantly change your estate plan. It is recommended to update your estate plan every few years or upon these events to ensure your assets and loved ones are adequately protected.

Don’t let stress about the future of your assets prevent you from enjoying this baseball season. Whether you cheer for the Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, or any team beyond, let Malm & LaFave, S.C. take care of your estate plan so you can head to the stadium stress-free. Contact our office at 414-228-5250 to discuss your affairs today.

Ernie banksPhoto credits: Doug McWilliams / National Baseball Hall of Fame Library