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Heirs Seek Legal Protections for Business Deal Dating from 1935

Massachusetts residents may think that estate planning and administration is over once a person dies and assets are divided between heirs. The truth is that executors or trustees to an estate can deal with legal and other matters for years, especially if a will is contested or there are long-term business or financial matters associated with the estate. For heirs of the woman who reportedly helped launch a syrup empire, estate matters include seeking what they feel are rightful monetary payments to the estate.

A suit is being filed by the family of Aunt Jemima. More accurately, they are the family of Anna Short Harrington, who was discovered by Quaker Oats while at a state fair. She was making pancakes.

According to the suit, Quaker used 22 menus and 64 pancake recipe formulas created by Harrington in making its product line of mass-market pancake mixes. The company also allegedly trademarked the woman’s image for the purpose of the Aunt Jemima character. The image was even licensed for use on novelty items, such as mugs.

According to reports, the family is suing for $2 billion in unpaid royalties. They allege that the company tried to get out of paying royalties by exploiting Harrington’s age and education level. The company reportedly dissuaded Harrington from hiring an attorney and never paid her part of sales of the products. The lawsuit said this treatment lasted for 60 years, even after the woman’s death.

The suit is seeking payment of the royalties to Harrington’s estate. Though it’s unlikely most residents of Massachusetts have a grandmother who launched a syrup empire, many families are part of local or national businesses. Long-term planning that understands how business matters relate to estate matters can help ensure heirs receive what is rightfully theirs.

Source: Eater, “Aunt Jemima Heirs Sue Quaker Oats for $2 Billion” Khushbu Shah, Aug. 12, 2014

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