Readers of the blog and California residents have probably seen the coverage of the fight between the girlfriend and estranged wife of deceased painter Thomas Kinkade. The two women are both claiming their supposed rights to their share of the famous artist's estate, and the winner may be decided by the court's decision on the validity of a handwritten will brought forth by Kinkade's live-in girlfriend.
Kinkade had a will in place from the year 2000 that left a sizeable portion of his estate to a living trust, which his wife claims was his intention. However, Kinkade's girlfriend has offered two contradictory pieces of evidence in the form of two handwritten wills dated November 18, 2011 and December 11, 2011, several months before his death from an alcohol and prescription drug overdose.
The two handwritten wills are badly scrawled and hardly legible, but, nonetheless, they may show Kinkade's intent to leave his girlfriend much of his estate, arguably including at least two separate gifts of $10 million and his palatial home. California does recognize the validity of handwritten, or 'holographic', wills, so long as they are entirely handwritten and signed by the person leaving the property.
Even if they are found to be valid, however, Kinkade's wife may still be able to prove that he was lacking capacity to make the wills at the time he wrote them, or that he was under the undue influence of his coercive girlfriend, both of which are grounds for invalidating the handwritten wills.
The wife and girlfriend look to be fighting to the bitter end, as can often be the case in an emotional struggle with so much at stake. If there is one take-away from this story, though, it's that everybody should give estate planning the time and thought it deserves so that sticky legal battles like this one can be avoided.
Source: Forbes, "In Battle For Thomas Kinkade Estate, Girlfriend Doesn't Have a Prayer," Deborah L. Jacobs, Aug. 22, 2012