Estate planning is always a responsible and sensible strategy. Having the details of your estate clearly defined and documented can save your heirs not only countless hours of work, it also helps your loved ones understand your intentions and carry them out with as little acrimony and emotional distress as possible. One high-profile case currently making its way through probate court illustrates just how heated disputes can become when there is no clear estate plan to guide those left behind.
Thomas Kinkade may be America’s most well-known artist, and he was certainly one of the most prolific. Estimates suggest that there is a Kinkade print in one out of every 20 households in Florida and throughout the country. The artist was also a savvy businessman, and made millions from his artwork. When he died suddenly of an accidental overdose of the prescription drug Valium, a battle ensued between his estranged wife and the woman who was his live-in girlfriend at the time of his death.
At issue is the mansion in which Kinkade and his girlfriend resided at the time of his death, as well as $10 million that would be used to establish a museum dedicated to his paintings. The girlfriend claims that the artist bequeathed her these assets in two handwritten notes that she has in her possession. The wife, who was married to the artist for over 30 years and has four children with him, is seeking full control of the estate, which is valued at $66 million.
Kinkade’s wife asked the court to send the case to be heard by an arbitration panel. That request was denied, and the case will continue to work through the probate court for the time being. Regardless of whether the parties go through arbitration or continue in court, this case is likely to go on for some time. Although most Florida residents do not have estates to rival that of Thomas Kinkade, many have complicated family structures or specific wishes that can complicate estate administration. In estate planning, the old adage applies: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.