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The Heritage Law Center, LLC Blog

Einstein’s Estate Plan No Work of Genius

POSTED ON: February 18, 2011

An Estate Plan with Good Intentions

Apparently even the smartest people can cause havoc for their families without a well thought out estate plan in place. Albert Einstein, the famed physicist who was crowned Time magazine’s person of the century in 1999, generously bequeathed the literary rights for the more than 75,000 papers and other items in his estate to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem when he died in 1955. But now his granddaughter, Evelyn, is claiming foul after the university refused to share in profits resulting from his estate.

The Israeli university also owns the rights to Einstein’s likeness, using a Los Angeles-based company called Greenlight, LLC to handle licensing for items such as Einstein apparel, mugs, puzzles, coins, posters and other collectibles. It’s pretty doubtful that Einstein ever thought he would one day be a bobblehead doll or Halloween mask, but his image continues to generate millions of dollars each year.

Estate Plans Should be Flexible

Einstein’s granddaughter, on the other hand, is a 69-year-old cancer survivor who needs money for health care. She says she hasn’t received a dime from the marketing and sales of merchandise, and doesn’t understand what a bobblehead has to do with Einstein’s literary estate.

She claims she has been ignored by the university in her requests for an arrangement that would allow her to profit from the sales. The school has responded saying that Einstein left all of his intellectual property, including the rights to the use of his image, to the university.

Quite a sad state of affairs: by nobly contributing to the university in his will, Einstein unknowingly left his own family unable to reap any benefit from his continued economic success. Perhaps if he had he spent a little more time on his estate plan and a little less time pondering relativity, he could have set up a trust for future generations of his family while still donating to his preferred cause. It just goes to show that a good estate plan should be flexible enough to manage tomorrow’s uncertainties while protecting your family.