If you’ve heard Rajiv say it once, you’ve heard him say it a hundred times: when it comes to your retirement, having plenty of money is absolutely no guarantee that you’ll leave behind the kind of legacy you hope to. Now once again, that axiom is being played out in the headlines in an ongoing battle between the widow and the two daughters of deceased rock legend Tom Petty. This time, according to this recent article on the Forbes website, although Petty seems to have attempted to create an estate plan, a fatal flaw in the form of a poorly-worded trust document appears to be the family’s undoing.
Tension Over Rocker Tom Petty’s Estate has Finally “Exploded”
“It’s been almost a year and a half since singer-songwriter Tom Petty died of an accidental drug overdose at age 66, on October 2, 2017,” says the Forbes article which was published last May. “Since then, the tension between his widow, Dana York Petty, and his two daughters from Petty’s prior marriage has been brewing until it exploded.” Widow Dana has labelled the daughters “abusive” and “erratic,” while daughters Adria and Annakim are accusing Dana of “gross mismanagement.” The daughters claim Dana’s malfeasance has cost them $5 million and counting. “Certainly,” Forbes writes, “the feud is not what [Petty] imagined when he created his trust.”
An estate the size of Petty’s is fertile ground for a family feud. According to the website CelebrityNetWorth, Petty’s estate had a net value at the time of his death of $95 million. But in this case, the battle isn’t only over the cash and property; it’s also about the music and the legacy of the legendary star and front man for the band called the Heartbreakers. As often seems to be the case when a celebrity dies while still popular, there are deep disagreements over what to do with Petty’s music, including unreleased recordings. According to Forbes, the battle between widow and daughters “culminated in the filing of multiple court proceedings between them, vying for control over Petty’s intellectual property rights, including the marketing rights to his name and image, royalties, and artistic creations.” Widow Dana accuses both daughters of conspiring to “lock her out of any say” over the management of Petty’s music. The daughters for their part claim they’re just doing what their father would have wanted, as spelled out in the Thomas Early Petty Living Trust.
Rocker Tom Petty Created a Trust – with a Fatal Flaw
It’s the wording of that Living Trust that seems to be at the center of this family fight. It appears, says Forbes, that Petty intended for his artistic properties to be transferred into an LLC (limited liability company) with his wife and both daughters “entitled to participate equally” in its management. The dispute centers around the meaning of the phrase “participate equally.” The daughters claim it means each of the three has a vote, which would empower them to override Dana, the widow. Dana disagrees and wants the LLC managed by an outside manager. The tangled dispute is threatening to halt the release of a major commemorative boxed set of Petty’s music, potentially costing the estate millions.
“Clearly, as the 18-month mark from Tom Petty’s death approaches, his family’s dispute is getting worse, not better,” Forbes laments. Although it’s clear that Petty intended for his estate to be divided in equal thirds for the benefit of his spouse and two daughters, “their inability to reach a consensus on how to manage these assets means that none of them are likely to benefit from this anytime soon. Instead, Tom Petty’s legacy may be forever tarnished by his family’s battle over his Trust.”
Rocker Tom Petty’s Case Should Alert All of Us to Plan Properly and Carefully
Why do we bring these cases to your attention here on the AgingOptions blog? It’s because, even in a modest-sized estate, a poorly-conceived legal plan can sow the seeds of deep family division. “Sadly, trust and estate fights over the financial legacy of a deceased loved one in blended families are far from uncommon,” Forbes warns. “While tens of millions of dollars are not usually on the line, disputes because of ambiguous language in a trust document happen frequently. And many families battle in court over who should be in control of assets.” In Petty’s case, a careful attorney should have anticipated that “equal participation” in managing his artistic assets does not necessarily mean “an equal vote.” As a result, says the article, “Either side’s interpretation of the Trust language at issue could ultimately win out in court. [And] this dispute will languish, perhaps getting even uglier before it gets better.”
If you need legal advice, or a review of Trusts and other documents, we stand ready to help you. The professionals at AgingOptions and our partner LifePoint Law, will be happy to provide objective consultation if you’ll simply contact us during the week.
Legal planning and preparation are highly important, but don’t think for a moment that a solid Last Will and Testament or a carefully-crafted Living Trust are all you need for a complete retirement plan. A true strategy for retirement also needs to encompass your family, your housing plans, and of course your finances. At AgingOptions, Rajiv Nagaich has pioneered a uniquely powerful blend of all these elements into a comprehensive retirement plan called a LifePlan. If you’re intrigued by this idea and ready to explore true retirement security, without cost or obligation, join Rajiv at an upcoming LifePlanning Seminar at a location that works for you. There’s a current calendar of upcoming seminars here on our Live Events page – or if we can assist you by phone, give us a call. You may not have the resources of a rock star, but you can be a “rock star” in the eyes of your loved ones, and enjoy a secure and fruitful retirement, guided by a LifePlan. Age on!
(originally reported at www.forbes.com)