John Singleton’s mother and the custodian of the late film director’s estate, Shelia Ward, finds herself entangled in a $15 million lawsuit from the mother of two of Singleton’s children, Vestria Barlow.
Barlow shares two grown children, Cleopatra and Maasai, with Singleton.
In her new lawsuit, Barlow is seeking unpaid residuals from Singleton’s films and back child support. Barlow has filed a number of complaints in the past against the estate.
Singleton died on April 28, 2019, at the age of 51, as a result of complications from a stroke that put him in a medically induced coma and eventually killed him. He had bequeathed a profound legacy and, indeed, substantial wealth to his seven children — each poised to inherit a princely fortune.
Inside the Estate
Ward, as administrator of her son’s estate, recently disclosed in a final report of valuations that Singleton’s property and assets totaled a modest $6,858,541.41.
This amount is after the settling of debts and the liquidation of assets such as a Los Angeles mansion, 1999 Lexus, 2003 Mercedes Benz, and a 2012 sailboat, collectively worth an estimated $2.3 million, according to Radar.
Forbes reported that Singleton passed away with an old will from 1993, which dictates how assets and property should be distributed after his death.
Ward urged the court to admit his 1993 will when she moved to commence the probate procedure, Forbes reported. Singleton was a very young director and filmmaker at the time, with only one child, Justice Singleton.
According to Ward’s probate application, Singleton had assets valued at approximately $3.8 million. Ward also identified Singleton’s heirs, including five acknowledged children and two minor “daughters” labeled as “Alleged Daughters,” whose biological relationship with Singleton is uncertain.
Various online sources claim that Singleton’s net worth was approximately $35 million at the time of his death. Some speculate that the probate filing only disclosed a small portion of his assets, suggesting that he may have established a trust to hold the remainder. However, this theory is most likely improbable since it would be unusual for someone to create a trust without updating their will to include a “pour-over” clause.
A pour-over will ensures an individual’s remaining assets will automatically transfer to a previously established trust upon their death.
According to Ward, among the goods sold was Singleton’s Miami property valued at $244,453.35, the profits of which went to his surviving daughter Cleopatra. Ward also asked the court to halt payments to Cleopatra since, according to the 2019 report, Cleopatra was given a monthly “allowance” of $2,778 to continue her studies at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans. Cleopatra received payments more two years after graduating from college in May 2021.
“The payment of a family allowance was to assist her with completing her undergraduate degree which she has accomplished. As the basis for Cleopatra’s family allowance payments no longer exist, the family allowance payments to her should be terminated by ex parte order effective May 1, 2023,” Ward said.
The estate also included items that went to Singleton’s heirs. Among the items were an invaluable collection of Spider-Man comic books, personal journals and director’s binders of scripts. There was also a portrait of rapper-actor Tupac that was valued at $75,000 and a lowrider classic car immortalized in Singleton’s film “Baby Boy” carried a price of approximately $50,000.
Singleton also owned 896 laserdisc movies, the value of which varies, depending on how rare the film is on the defunct format. For example, a single copy of “Tokyo Raiders” is worth $5,700 to a collector, but “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” and “Ghostbusters: Special Edition” are worth $35 and $25, respectively.
Inside the Lawsuit
In the new lawsuit, Barlow stated that she wants to obtain damages from Singleton’s estate; she is accusing it of “knowingly and intentionally failure and refusal to pay past and ongoing royalties, residuals and compensation for use of Plaintiff’s intellectual property in films, television programs, videos and other streaming services.”
Barlow is demanding two separate six-figure payments for past-due child support as well as unpaid revenue from films such as “Poetic Justice,” “Higher Learning,” “Woo,” “Rosewood,” “Shaft,” “Baby Boy,” “Hustle & Flow,” and “Black Snake Moan,” in which Barlow claims to have had some involvement.
Singleton passed away while his TV show “Snowfall,” was being produced for FX. Despite his passing, Singleton’s contributions as the co-creator of “Snowfall” are still recognized, and Singleton would likely have continued to generate income posthumously through various means, including royalties, ongoing projects, licensing deals, and estate management. Barlow also wants a cut from this.
However, Ward and the estate have asked the court to dismiss the case, citing that it was filed in the wrong state and past the statute of limitations.
According to Barlow, Singleton stopped providing child support for Maasai in September 2006, 55 months before he turned 18. She is seeking payment for those missing months.
Similarly, Barlow claims that Singleton also stopped paying for Cleopatra at the same time; she was receiving $2,000 per month payment for Cleopatra.
Barlow alleges that her late boyfriend owed $213,125 for each of their children.
Barlow was given primary custody of the children in 2001. Singleton was ordered to pay $3,875 a month for each child until they turned 18 years old. According to Barlow, he reportedly stopped making payments early.
Barlow‘s History of Challenging the Estate
On Jan. 27, 2023, Barlow filed a lawsuit against Ward, the estate and several studios and companies that Singleton either worked for or owned. The lawsuit includes nine counts, such as fraud, misappropriation, unjust enrichment, breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, conspiracy, mental suffering and emotional distress, and even racial discrimination.
The lawsuit was filed in the District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, and the studios and companies named in the lawsuit are Walt Disney Company, New Deal Productions Inc, Sony Pictures Releasing International Corp, Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment LLC, Universal TV Pictures LLC, Paramount Pictures Corp, FX Networks LLC, FXX Networks LLC, Teneka Hughey, and Green Book Vacations LLC.
Barlow’s Daughter Is Also Suing
Cleopatra filed a court order with a $1 million claim, stating Singleton was required to maintain a life insurance policy with her as the beneficiary.
Cleopatra is also arguing with her grandmother over the money she claims she needs for school and is pleading with the court to dismiss Ward’s request to discontinue her study stipend. This is a separate filing.
Despite finishing school more than two years ago in May 2021, Cleopatra does not want her monthly allowance of about $2,700, which was approved by the court in December 2019, to stop, Radar reports.
Between 2019 and 2021, Cleopatra was a dependent of her late father as a full-time student at Xavier University of Louisiana.
Ward demanded that Cleopatra’s payments from Singleton’s estate be reduced by the amount she earned from being employed after graduating from Xaiver University, RadarOnline reported recently. Cleopatra, on the other hand, stated that Ward wishes to entirely discontinue payments, which the surviving daughter objects to because she reportedly is enrolled in an online school.
Cleopatra stated that Ward’s final accounting report to the court should not be authorized, saying she believes it contained “woefully inaccurate” information and transactions were missing documentation and verification.