Estate Tax

It's been some years since rocker Frank Zappa died, but his four children are now embroiled in a bitter public battle over his estate and musical legacy. The musician's wife Gail had control of his trust until her death in October of last year.

What's at stake is not just the money from the Zappa Family Trust, which is in debt millions of dollars. It could, however, potentially be worth millions because it contains over 100 albums released before and after Zappa's death. The conflict also involves who is allowed to use his name.

Older Versus Younger Siblings

The battle is between the rocker's older children, Moon and Dweezil, and their younger siblings, Ahmet and Diva. Their mother gave the two elder siblings each 20 percent of the trust, while leaving 30 percent to each of the two younger ones.

Moon, the eldest, acknowledges that she and her mother had a difficult relationship. She calls her a "mean mom." However, she thought that towards the end of her mother's life as she cared for her, things had gotten better. She calls the division of the trust, "the most hideous shock of my life."

For Dweezil, who has been performing his father's music, the actions by his younger brother Ahmet, the trustee, impact his work. He says he received a cease-and-desist letter when he went public about being told to rename his tour, which celebrates 50 years of his father's music. It's now called, in part, the "Cease and Desist Tour."

Dispute Over Whether Trust Terms Can Be Changed

Ahmet says their mother told all of the children how the trust would be divided and that Ahmet would be the trustee before she died. Moon says her brother can change the terms if he chooses to under a "prudent person clause," even though he reportedly has said that he can't.

Diva, the youngest, stands by Ahmet, but says, "I think what's getting lost in all of this is that we are a family that is grieving very differently." The impact of the public feud isn't lost on Ahmet. He said, "Now, we're becoming 'that family' -- the spoiled brats arguing in public about who deserves what."

Estate plans can tear families apart. While people may dread doing it, it's best to discuss your estate plan with your family so that they don't have unwanted surprises after you're gone. Your estate planning attorney can help you do that and also assist in answering your family's questions.