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Learn from this Rock star’s mistakes

Do you have a “blended family”? Learn From Tom Petty’s Mistakes: His Daughters and Widow Are Now Locked In Bitter Battle Over His Estate

Recently, Tom Petty’s daughters escalated the battle over their late father’s estate by suing Petty’s second wife. They’re asking for $5 million in damages. In the lawsuit, Adria Petty and Annakim Violette, claim their father’s widow, Dana York Petty, mismanaged their father’s estate, depriving them of their rights to determine how Petty’s music should be released.

Petty died in 2017 of an accidental drug overdose at age 66. He named Dana as sole trustee of his trust, but the terms of the trust give the daughters “equal participation” in decisions about how Petty’s catalog is to be used. The daughters, who are from Petty’s first marriage, claim the terms should be interpreted to mean they get two votes out of three, which would give them majority control.

Alex Weingarten, an attorney for Petty’s daughters, issued a statement to Rolling Stone magazine, asserting that Perry’s widow is not abiding by Petty’s wishes for his two children.

“Tom Petty wanted his music and his legacy to be controlled equally by his daughters, Adria and Annakim, and his wife, Dana. Dana has refused Tom’s express wishes and insisted instead upon misappropriating Tom’s life’s work for her own selfish interests,” he said.

In April, Dana filed a petition in a Los Angeles court, seeking to put Petty’s catalog under control of a professional manager, who would assist the three women in managing the estate’s assets. Dana alleged that Adria had made it difficult to conduct business by acting abusive and erratic, including sending angry emails to various managers, record label reps, and even members of Petty’s band, the Heartbreakers.

Since Petty’s death, two compilations of his music have been released, including “An American Treasure” in 2018 and “The Best of Everything” in 2019. Both albums reportedly involved intense conflict between Petty’s widow and daughters, over “marketing, promotional, and artistic considerations.”

In reply to the new lawsuit, Dana’s attorney, Adam Streisand, issued a statement claiming the suit is without merit and could potentially harm Petty’s legacy.

“This misguided and meritless lawsuit sadly demonstrates exactly why Tom Petty designated his wife to be the sole trustee with authority to manage his estate,” he said. “Dana will not allow destructive nonsense like this to distract her from protecting her husband’s legacy.”

Destructive disputes, a sad truth

When famous artists leave behind extremely valuable—yet highly complex—assets like music rights, contentious court disputes often erupt among heirs, even with planning in place.

There is a greater chance of such disputes in blended families.  If you’re in a second (or more) marriage, with children from a prior marriage, there is always a risk for conflict, as your children and spouse’s interests often aren’t aligned. In such cases, it’s essential to plan well in advance to reduce the possibility for conflict and confusion.

Petty did the right thing by creating a trust to control his music catalog, but the lawsuit centers around the terms of his trust and how those terms divide control of his assets. While it’s unclear exactly what the trust stipulates, it appears the terms giving the daughters “equal participation” with his widow in decisions over Petty’s catalog are somewhat ambiguous. The daughters contend the terms amount to three equal votes, but his widow obviously disagrees.

Reduce conflict with clear terms and communication

It’s critical that your trust contain clear and unambiguous terms that spell out the beneficiaries’ exact rights, along with the exact rights and responsibilities of the trustee. Such precise terms help ensure all parties know exactly what you intended when setting up the trust.

You should also communicate your wishes to your loved ones while you’re still alive, rather than relying on a written document that only becomes operative when you die or should you become incapacitated.  Sharing your intentions and hopes for the future can go a long way in preventing disagreements over what you “really” wanted.

For your family’s sake

While such conflicts frequently erupt among families of the rich and famous like Petty, they can occur over anyone’s estate, regardless of its value. Attorney Myrna Serrano Setty can  help you draft clear terms for all of your planning documents. And because Myrna is a trained family mediator, she can help facilitate family meetings, where you can explain your wishes to your loved ones in person and answer any questions they may have.

Doing both of these things can dramatically reduce the chances of conflict over your estate and bring your family closer at the same time. And if you have a blended family (meaning children from a prior marriage), we have more ideas about how you can head off future conflict at the pass with proper planning now.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she ensures you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer an estate Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love.

Call today to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article and learn how to get this $500 session at no charge.

Robin Williams’ Family Fight Over Personal Property is NOT So Funny

In 2014, the famous actor and comedian Robin Williams died. In 2015, his wife of 3 years, Susan Williams, ended up in a bitter court battle with his children from prior marriages over personal items that belonged to him. Williams’ wife claimed that his children had taken personal items from the couples’ Tiburon, CA home without her permission.

According to the children, these items were part of the inventory of personal property conveyed by certain trusts that their father had established for their benefit. Williams’ trust granted his children his memorabilia and awards from the entertainment industry, along with other items.

Ambiguity? Or Theft?

His widow, Susan Williams, claimed that since they lived together in their own house in Tiburon, and there was a separate residence in Napa, it stands to reason he wanted the children to receive items from the Napa residence and she was to receive the property from the Tiburon home.

Attorneys for the two sides appeared to offer conflicting characterizations of the court case. Susan Williams’ attorney said she was just seeking a clarification from the court. But the attorney for the children said she had accused them of stealing items that belonged to her.

The Robin Williams’ estate underscores the need to specify exactly which personal items you are giving to family members by trust or will so there is no ambiguity once you pass.  It’s this ambiguity that causes family in-fighting and costs excessive amounts of time, money and energy, even (and maybe even especially) when the estate is of small value.

Blended Families Need to be Clear

Especially in a blended family situation, like with Robin Williams’ family, it’s important to be extremely clear about whether children from a prior marriage should receive any money or other assets at the time of your death or if they should wait for all inheritance until the death of your spouse.

This is one of the situations that is most likely to result in strife and complication after death, and it’s so straightforward and easy to deal with ahead of time.

The best way to learn about protecting your family is to talk with us about a Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you to provide for and protect the financial security of your loved ones. Contact us at (813) 514-2946 to learn more about how you can get this valuable session for free.