Muhammad Ali’s Estate Battle?

There have been reports that Muhammad Ali’s death will lead to a battle over his estate. Ali was married four times and acknowledged nine children. It is reported that there is ongoing friction between his widow Lonnie Ali, Ali’s children and relatives.

Muhammad Ali was a Muslim having converted to the Nation of Islam  after befriending Malcolm X in the early 1960’s. Malcolm tutored him in the teachings of Elijah Muhammad. Known then as Cassius Clay he changed his name, first to Cassius X then Muhammad Ali.

Ali left the Nation of Islam in 1975, embracing Sunni Islam, later he practiced the more moderate Universal Sufism retaining his Islamic faith for the rest of his life.

In earlier posts we discussed the inheritance law as practiced by Sunni and Shi’a. The main sources of Islamic law are the Qur’an, the customary practices of the pre-Islamic period (with an emphasis on the tribal group descending through the male line of the family) and the Hadith (the descriptions of the practices and decisions of Mohammed)

The Qur’an is a major source of inheritance law that obliges when a Muslim dies the following duties be performed. They are:

  • Pay funeral and burial expenses.
  • Paying debts of the deceased.
  • Distribution of gifts under the Will.
  • Distribute the remainder of estate and property to the relatives of the deceased accordingly.

Property passes as follows

  • The Spouse
  • Parents and their descendants
  • Grandparents
  • Brothers, Sisters, and their children
  • Then Paternal relatives

Importantly Islamic laws of inheritance necessitate making a valid Will as the rules regarding intestacy in most jurisdictions do not meet the requirements for Islamic succession. As a devout Muslim it is likely that Ali would have created a Will that reflected Islamic practice.

However due to his fame it is likely that his estate will continue to increase in value. In 2006 he sold an 80% stake in the rights to his name and image  for $50 million. Recently Ali’s name and likeness has generated between $4 million and $7 million annually, largely through endorsement deals with companies like Adidas and Electronic Arts.

In 2011 the company that held the 80% share of the rights in Ali’s name and image was sold for $512m; in 2013, they were sold again with Ali retaining his 20% stake. The rights are now owned by Authentic Brands Group (ABG), a New York firm that manages the  image rights for, a number of celebrities including  Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson.

It has been reported that Lonnie is the executor of his estate, however it remains unclear how the income generated through various licensing deals will be distributed within the family. It should be  pointed out that even if Ali’s Will had been drafted to reflect the tenets of his faith it would not necessarily stop claimants bringing actions against the estate .

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