Music fans in Nevada who were saddened when Tom Petty died of a drug overdose in 2017 may be surprised to learn that his widow and two daughters are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute over his estate. Petty’s daughters have accused his widow of gross mismanagement over her handling of the Thomas Early Petty Living Trust. His widow has called their behavior erratic and abusive.
The gist of the dispute is the language Petty used when he drafted his living trust. His widow is named as the sole trustee, but the document makes clear that the singer-songwriter’s artistic properties should be transferred to a limited liability company within six months of his death. The document went on to state that the LLC should be managed equally by his widow and two daughters. The problem is that Petty’s widow and daughters have very different ideas about how his image rights should be used.
Petty’s daughters want to authorize the use of their late father’s likeness and name to sell products like salad dressing. His widow objects to this. The six-month time limit passed more than a year ago, and it looks increasingly likely that the courts will have to decide what Petty meant when he said that the LLC should be managed equally. Petty’s daughters say that all three parties should vote and the majority view should prevail. Petty’s widow says that such an arrangement would effectively give his daughters complete control.
This case reveals how disputes can arise even when estate plans have been drafted carefully to avoid them. Attorneys with experience in estate administration may choose their words with extreme care when drafting wills and trusts. They could then check the completed documents closely for any ambiguous statements or phrases that could be interpreted in more than one way.
Source: Forbes, “The Tom Petty Estate Battle: From Wildflowers To A Wildfire”, Danielle and Andy Mayoras, May 30, 2019