03 May “Great Balls Of Fire” – Jerry Lee Lewis’ Son Fumes As Cousins Evict Him From Dad’s Ranch
The late legendary rock & roll star Jerry Lee Lewis bought 2/3 of a 30-acre Mississippi ranch almost 50 years ago. Not only did Jerry Lee Lewis live there until his death on October 28, 2022, so did his son, Jerry Lee Lewis, III (Lee) as well as Lee’s sons. The swimming pool at the Lewis Ranch is shaped like a piano, and there is an image of a piano on the iron gate entrance to the ranch in deference to the rock & roll superstar’s musical talent.
Jerry Lee Lewis consistently battled the IRS over unpaid taxes. He also had alcohol and drug issues and had 6 children from his 7 marriages. In order to “protect” the property from the IRS (and possibly spouses), Lewis deeded his interest in the ranch to his best friend, tour manager and one-time brother-in-law, Cecil Harrelson Sr. Harrelson was married to Jerry Lee’s sister, Linda, and they had 3 children (Cecil Harrelson, Jr., Mary Jean Ferguson and Annie Marie Dolan) born of such marriage. Cecil Harrelson, Sr. died in 2013 and Jerry Lee was given a life estate (the right to occupy the property for his lifetime) in the ranch. Everything else went to Cecil’s children.
Jerry Lee’s last will and testament said that he devised the ranch to Lee. Lee never knew that his dad (Jerry Lee) deeded his interest in the ranch to Harrelson. Lee was shocked when he found out that his first cousins (the Harrelson children) had placed the property for sale as the legal owners since Jerry Lee’s life estate interest in the ranch property terminated at his death.
The Harrelson children (Lee’s first cousins) then demanded that Lee vacate the property where he grew up (the ranch). The battle over the ranch went to court. This court decided that Lee could be evicted since the Harrelson children were the rightful owners of the property (notwithstanding Jerry Lee’s will) and Lee’s belief that it would be his. It should be mentioned that Lee will be receiving a portion of Jerry Lee’s $10 to $15 million estate.
Lesson learned: Jerry Lee knew he would have future disputes with the IRS and perhaps others (i.e., spouses) based on his history. So, he transferred the ranch (if you transfer property when you have an existing claim against you or a claim is threatened against you, the transfer could be set aside as fraudulent) to his best friend. When Jerry Lee lost control, Harrelson could do anything he wanted with the property. It is uncertain why Jerry Lee devised the property under his will to Lee when he didn’t own it. Thus, when planning you should not only know what assets you own, but also your beneficiary designation (as well as contingent beneficiaries). Efforts should be made to minimize risks of family squabbles. Lack of clarity often results in litigation. The goal of most is to be in control of your property during your lifetime, to plan if you should become disabled and plan that when you pass your property goes to your beneficiaries the way you want to make it easy for your beneficiaries upon your death.
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