An estate planning attorney’s job is no easy matter when the client does not reveal all of their relationships and other important matters. Case in point: Thomas Kinkade, a well-known American painter, who lived in California, died last year. Ever since then, his estate has been in dispute. It seems his girlfriend produced two handwritten Wills, indicating she was the sole beneficiary of his estate. This revelation came as a shock to Kinkade’s wife and family.
Things started to unravel when the girlfriend filed a motion to probate the two disputed Wills. The estate attorney fired back that the estate and trust were considered final, and she was breaching a confidentiality agreement set up to protect his assets, wife, and kids. The Wills she submitted stated she was to receive Kinkade’s art collection, worth about $66 million, plus an additional $10 million, to run a museum featuring his works.
To summarize this situation, although there were proper estate planning documents in place, Kinkade’s wishes can’t be carried out because two opposing parties are fighting in court over conflicting documents. Had Kinkade re-visited his estate planning strategy prior to his death, he could have updated his estate plan, had that been his intention to do so, and made his specific wishes clear. As it was, he left behind two holographic wills that are not consistent with his other estate planning documents.
Who will win? The court will determine that. But, by the time the dust has settled on this case, the value of the legacy Kinkade left behind, including his works of art and his reputation will have diminished significantly. In this case, the estate planning attorney was kept in the dark about the client’s true situation. A messy situation resulted.
While you cannot force your client to tell you all their relevant information, it is important to impress upon them that not doing so may jeopardize the very estate plan they are coming to you to establish.
For more information see:
Los Gatos Patch, “Thomas Kinkade Girlfriend Fights Request to Keep Probate Matter Private,” Sheila Sanchez, June 28, 2012
Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M.
Associate Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (800) 846-1555