Celebrity estates, they’re just like ours. Or often not. And definitely not in the case of the ODB estate. Nearly 20 years after the death of rapper ODB, a/k/a Old Dirty Bastard, one of his kids is complaining that neither she nor her siblings have received a single distribution.
Daughter Ashana Jones is the heir who took her concerns public, reported in the New York Post. “I have not seen anything as of yet and neither have my half-siblings,” she is quoted. “I don’t know what is owed. But I just want what is owed. That sum can be sizable and right now I have received zero.”
Reports on celebrity estates like this make us wonder—what could be going on? We’ll never really know, but it’s interesting to try to read between the lines and, further, see if there are lessons for the rest of us.
Complicated From the Beginning
ODB (real name Russell Tyrone Jones) died of an accidental drug overdose in 2004. He was just 35 and had no will. By then, he had already become a star with the rap group Wu-Tang Clan. He’d also fathered at least seven children with five different women.
That’s the first part of the ODB estate that is unusual and a potential cause for delay. A large number of heirs always makes an estate trickier to administer. It’s more difficult to communicate with a lot of people, and there’s a high probability that, if the heirs need to agree before the executor can move forward on an issue, one or more will object or request additional information before deciding.
He married one of them, Icelene Jones, who became the administrator of his estate.
ODB Estate Litigation
One of the most striking aspects of the ODB estate is the number of lawsuits. It appears that there have been at least four. Litigation stalls any estate administration. Distributions should wait until after resolution of all legal disputes. The cost of litigation can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. There’s no limit. Retaining funds to sue or defend a lawsuit is critical.
Among apparent disputes in the ODB estate:
Shortly after ODB’s death, Ashana’s mother, Krishana Rucker, sued for back child support. She says: “We fought from 2004 and [the estate] finally settled with me.” The settlement was reportedly $500,000,
Rucker also reports that, early on, Icelene “tried to cut off the four kids who weren’t hers from any inheritance by maintaining they were not Russell’s children.” Icelene apparently filed a lawsuit in California to determine paternity and eventually withdrew it.
In 2007, two mothers of ODB’s kids, Cheryl McCall and Suzy Wong, sued to have Icelene removed as estate administrator. The effort was not successful.
On top of that, the estate filed a lawsuit just this past February against Wu-Tang Productions. The complaint alleges that the the company owes the ODB estate at least $1 million in unpaid royalties.
And there may be more: Ashana says she is willing to initiate legal action to force a distribution: “I don’t want to. But if I have to, I will. I am being ignored. Enough is enough. We have to stop playing games.”
ODB Estate Liquidity
Greg Watts, the attorney who currently represents Icelene as estate administrator shares with The Post: “There was no money in the estate when it was first formed. Russell Jones died and there was nothing. His wife with other marketing executives were able to market his image and music [and] generate money for the estate . . . The heirs can potentially get distributions. As soon as we have accumulated it, they will get distributions from time to time. If, say, the estate gets $1 million, then they will get distribution after expenses.”
The few reported details suggest that there’s no pile of money at the moment. Wu-Tang Productions paid $130,000 in 2021. The estate received miscellaneous payments in 2019 and 2020.
Attorney Watts said: “The estate is fluid. You have to account for . . . debts and liabilities.”
Watts also said the child-support claim took precedence over distributions to heirs. That’s completely appropriate, particularly if funds are scarce. Ashana’s child support is a creditor claim; estates always should pay creditors before heirs. Watt’s comment suggests there may be other creditors. If that’s the case, the estate is not yet able to pay heirs.
ODB’s former manager, Jarred Weisfeld thinks otherwise, and said: “There is no doubt in my mind that the estate has generated seven figures since his death. That would have come through song royalties, documentaries, the use of his song in the opening credits of ‘Knocked Up.’ For that alone, he should have gotten six figures.”
Would Wu-Tang Productions be responsible for those payments? Probably. Hence, the lawsuit.
Other ODB Estate Points of Interest
Intestate confusion. It seems that there was some confusion early on regarding legal division of ODB’s assets. Rucker shares that “A couple months [after ODB’s funeral], I got a call from [Icelene’s] then attorney. He was nasty. His words penetrated my soul. He said, ‘She is his wife, [you] have no say and she will inherit everything.’” That’s not the case in New York, where his estate is being probated. If a married person dies with children from prior relationships, the spouse receives half, and the children get the other half. (Arizona law is similar.) Such a division often comes as a surprise—even to lawyers.
Determination of heirs. Some reports put ODB’s number of children at 13. The Post quotes Ashana as saying she contacted Watts “to try getting light on the situation about the heirs’ share. I reached out in the hope that somebody can tell me when everybody will get established and when I will get my payment.” This suggests that the number of heirs is pending. ODB recognized seven children, and there may be paternity pending for six others.
Accountings. Ashana’s mother tells The Post that “Icelene … has not given us an accounting of the estate’s money.” Although Ashana was only 7 when ODB died, she’s now an adult and she would be receiving accountings, not her mother. Rucker may not know what her daughter has received. However, if no accountings have been provided, that would be a serious issue and also an indication that Icelene may not be receiving–or following—appropriate legal advice.
Paperwork. The ODB estate finished payments for Ashana’s child support in February. Her mother mentions, “Now I need to sign off that the case is closed.” It’s July, and she seems to be saying she hasn’t signed what is probably a simple form acknowledging payment in full. Dawdling on routine paperwork is a common estate delay.
Lack of an estate plan. Former ODB manager Weisfeld told The Post: “You can’t tell somebody who’s 35 to get a will.” Well, yes you can. Especially if they have a complicated family situation. Weisfeld also reveals that “Dirty would be beyond upset by what is going on. If he could see this, he would say to me that I should have gotten him his divorce. He got out of jail and asked for three things. He wanted a record contract, a clothing line and a divorce. I got him two out of the three before he died.” Maybe he’d say, “I should have gotten a will.” A simple will could have clarified whether ODB wanted his spouse to inherit, which (if any) of his children should inherit, and whom he wanted to handle the estate. It could have prevented nearly 20 years of drama and expense.
Meanwhile, Icelene is still trying to preserve and promote her late husband’s legacy. A&E has green-lit a documentary that will chronicle his life and career. The ODB estate is producing the film alongside Pulse Films. It’s to premiere in 2023.