Andre Norton Estate in Will Dispute Case

Andre Norton's estate is embroiled in a lawsuit over who owns the rights to the work of one of science fiction's best known and loved female authors. Norton's caretaker in her later years and her biggest fan and friend, an oncologist, are battling out the right to control all posthumous publication of her works.
Norton moved to Murfreesboro, a Nashville suburb, in the 1990s and established a writer's research library. As she got older, the library was closed and Norton, who had no children or other close relatives, moved in with her caretaker, Sue Stewart. Over the years, she gave Stewart more than $250,000, according to court testimony.

Norton updated her will several times and in the final version said she wanted to be cremated with a copy of her first and last books, and wanted her estate split among co-authors, friends and Stewart. Stewart was named as the beneficiary of the "residuary clause" -- all other property or money not explicitly assigned in the will. But the will also said that Norton's longtime fan, Horadam, was to get "the royalties from all posthumous publication of any of my works."

Stewart contends the will intends for her, not Horadam, to get the royalty income from any works published before Norton died. Horadam went to court, asking a judge to provide an interpretation of "posthumous publication." Stewart could not be reached for comment, but her attorney says Norton's close friends in Tennessee testified that they were surprised that Norton didn't leave control of her literary works to Stewart. The judge also heard from Norton herself thanks to a video recording.

"In the video, about a few months before her final execution of the will, she says she wants everything to go to Sue," said attorney Dicken Kidwell. "In that video, she says, 'All I have is yours.' I don't know how it could be much more explicit." But a Tennessee judge ruled in favor of Horadam, saying Norton used the terms royalties and copyrights interchangeably in her will and "posthumous publication" meant any publication of her works after her death, including reprints. The judge said Horadam had greater appreciation for the literary works than the caretaker.
It sounds like the will itself was poorly drafted. What a mess. You can be sure that whoever loses will appeal the ruling.

Posted on July 10, 2008

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