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Syrup heirs sue over business administration issues

For most Oklahoma residents, estate matters are likely fairly simple. Individuals may have real property, such as land or a home, some cash and some family items to pass along. In some more complex estate cases, legacies extend to brand images or creative ideas, especially when a business or personality is involved. Such is the case with the heirs of the woman who reportedly inspired the Aunt Jemima syrup and pancake brand.

According to reports, two great-grandsons of the woman have filed a suit against Quaker Oats and its parent company. The suit alleges that the company's business administration with regard to the Aunt Jemima brand exploited their great-grandmother with the intent that no royalties would be paid to her estate following her death.

The lawsuit alleges that representatives of Quaker Oats saw their great-grandmother in 1935 at a state fair. She was reportedly making pancakes. She inspired the brand and even played the Aunt Jemima character in public appearances and commercials for 15 years. According to reports, the woman's likeness was trademarked in 1937 by Quaker and her pancake recipes were used by the company.

According to the suit, the two men allege that Quaker conspired not to recognize their great-grandmother as an employee. The family was able to obtain a death certificate for the woman, who died in 1955, that listed Quaker as her employer. The men then filed the suit, alleging, among other things, that Quaker committed industrial espionage by taking the woman's pancake recipes. The suit is reportedly seeking $2 billion in royalties and damages.

Though this is an extreme case, it's not impossible that anyone could pass away with business matters still on the table. When that happens, heirs or estate administrators may have the ability to seek legal remedies to matters.

Source: KOCO.com, "'Aunt Jemima's' heirs sue product makers for $2 billion" Patrick M. Sheridan, Aug. 11, 2014

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