Although it’s not uncommon for celebrities (and ordinary people) to die without an estate plan in place, Tom Petty had a trust created before his death. His widow, Dana York Petty, was named trustee, and the trust contains Tom’s music catalog. However, the trust specified that Tom’s daughters, Adria Petty and Annakim Violette, should have “equal participation” in decisions about how Tom’s music would be used.
Although we don’t have access to a copy of the trust, it appears that the term “equal participation” is unclear in this case. His daughters have argued that they each get one vote in decisions about the music and that Dana York Petty gets one vote. That makes sense since it would give each of Tom’s three heirs an equal say in the matter.
It seems, however, that Dana York Petty has interpreted the phrase “equal participation” to mean that she gets one vote and the daughters share one vote. That is also a reasonable position. The probate court will have to consider the wording of the trust itself, any evidence of Tom Petty’s intent, and California law to determine which interpretation to follow.
The widow and daughters have already been involved in disputes. The release of two compilations since Tom Petty’s death was apparently fraught with conflict. In April, Dana York Petty petitioned the probate court to allow her to put Tom Petty’s music under professional management. Adria Petty shot back with a claim to control the entire estate.
Now, Petty’s two daughters have filed a lawsuit against Dana York Petty for $5 million. They claim that she has wrongfully denied them equal participation in decisions about the music catalog.
“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,” contends Dana York Petty’s attorney.
Most probate disputes are avoidable with careful planning
After the death of a loved one, the last thing anyone needs is a dispute over what their estate plan means. However, emotions are running high and inheritances can feel very personal.
The first step toward avoiding family disputes after your death is to create an estate plan — even an imperfect one is more likely to prevent disputes than nothing. Yet, as we can see from Tom Petty’s situation, an imperfectly drafted estate plan could cause problems of its own.
In other words, it’s crucial to get started on your plan. And, it can be very useful to work with an estate planning lawyer with experience in probate. Understanding the kinds of issues that arise most often can be invaluable in creating one that minimizes the chance for a probate dispute.