CHICAGO - Cubs great Ernie Banks had assets worth just $16,000 when he died, an attorney for the woman who cared for him during his final years said Tuesday in a contentious court appearance over his will that prompted a judge to demand details.
Cook County Probate Judge James Riley gave caregiver Regina Rice 30 days to provide a full accounting of Banks' estate at the time of his death last month at age 83.
Rice and Banks' estranged wife, Elizabeth Banks, have fought over what he wanted done with his remains and who should inherit his estate. Elizabeth Banks prevailed with the remains, having them buried at a cemetery just a few blocks from Wrigley Field even though she said Rice wanted to cremate them.
Banks is now contesting a will that her husband signed in October — without her knowledge, she contends — that specifies that all of his assets go to Rice. An attorney for Ernie Banks' two sons has also said they will contest the will.
At a short, contentious court hearing Tuesday, Elizabeth Banks' attorneys expressed surprise that Rice's attorney's preliminary estimate of Ernie Banks' worth was just $16,000. That prompted Riley to order Rice to provide documentation about assets including bank accounts, vehicles and baseball memorabilia. Rice also must seek the judge's permission before selling assets during the legal fight over the estate.
Rice's attorney, Linda Chatman, said the estimate was just preliminary, and she noted that the true value of the estate was in the rights to his name and likeness. That means that the estate is likely worth far more, given Ernie Banks' place in the history of Major League Baseball and in Chicago, where he was a beloved sports figure for decades. In his 19 years as a baseball player, Banks never made more than $75,000 a year.
Banks' family has accused Rice of coercing the ailing Banks into signing a new will just months before he died.
On Tuesday, though, Elizabeth Banks' attorney, Thomas Jefson, did not accuse Rice of any wrongdoing.
"There's no allegation of fraud or embezzlement," Jefson said, "We'd just like to know what happened."