Sammy Davis Jr. and the Online Will

Sammy Davis Jr., died of throat cancer in Beverly Hills in May 1990, his estate was valued at over $4 million dollars however he left a tax debt of nearly $5 million that due to interest and penalties, had increased to $7-million.

Sammy was arguably the most famous African-American entertainer of the 20th century, with more than 48 records and albums, 39 films, several books, and half a dozen Broadway productions. He was an accomplished photographer who had photographed his friends, (Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, James Dean, Nat “King” Cole, and Marilyn Monroe) as well as political figures Robert Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sammy was incredibly successful, making millions each year, however he spent considerably more. He had extravagant tastes, and an indulgent lifestyle, lavishing Altovise, with luxurious and exquisite gifts.

Sammy did not always manage his business affairs well. He had been underpaid by recording studios, signed contracts on less than favorable terms, in some instances he’d failed to secure the master recordings of his own songs!

Sammy left insurance policies for Altovise and three adult children (daughter Tracey, 30, sons Mark, 31, and Jeff, 27, by second wife Mai Britt), and a policy covering business and household expenses.

However Sammy’s royalties from film, and TV appearances, as well as records and other memorabilia were paid directly to the IRS. The estate had not agreed to issue any new Davis material until the IRS debt was cleared.

After Sammy’s death, the debts were transferred to his estate. Altovise became liable for the IRS debt because she had cosigned Sammy’s tax returns. Sammy’s executors (his lawyer, John Climaco and manager Shirley Rhodes) and the IRS reached a settlement in 1997.

Once the tax liability was settled Altovise set about restoring Sammy’s legacy, in 2006 helping to organise a musical touring show called “Mr. Bojangles: The Ultimate Entertainer”.

Altovise died in March 2009 having completed an online fill-in-the-blank, self-help Will leaving her entire estate to their adopted son Manny.  The estate’s main asset was the right to many of Sammy Davis Jr.’s creative works.

The online will replaced a 2004 Will leaving her estate to her two business partners. Altovise claimed that they used liens, mortgages, and powers of attorney to gain partial control of the Sammy’s legacy—and much of Altovise’s assets.

Altovise online Will was challenged with an argument as to whether it accurately reflected her intentions.

The Court ruled that the on line Will met all the legal formalities ruling that it was an

“expression of Mrs. Davis’s intent with regard to her estate and what she wanted to happen to it,”

The will produced from the online forms accurately reflected Altovise’s intention regarding the disposition of her estate.

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