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'Change of Heart' for the Petty family in dispute over rock star's estate?

View profile for Paul Branch
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Another day, another late famous person’s disputed Will…

The singer-songwriter Tom Petty died in October 2017 moving onto ‘A Higher Place’, following an accidental overdose. A recent news story suggests all is not well in the Petty camp relating to the distribution of his assets.

Petty left behind two adult daughters from his first marriage, Adria Petty and Annakim Violette, and his wife Dana York. News reports hint there had been a ‘Breakdown’ in relationships during the singer’s lifetime and have since worsened.

Unlike fellow stars such as Prince, Bob Marley and Aretha Franklin, all of whom died without leaving a Will which then led to a contentious situation, Tom Petty had set up a trust to distribute his assets after his death, seemingly giving that power to his wife with input from his two daughters. In theory, a trust should ensure the seamless distribution of an estate and it can preserve privacy as it avoids the use of probate courts.

Probate courts

However, the Petty family have found themselves in the probate court anyway. Petty’s widow has filed a petition asking the court to appoint a manager to supervise any decision-making on his estate. She alleges that she tried to work with his daughters but that their behaviour made it difficult to carry out the estate business. This relates to issues around the release of new solo tracks Petty made 25 years ago. York wanted them included in an anniversary release of Petty’s ‘Wildflowers’ album, but his daughters disagreed.

Adria Petty has filed her own petition in court, claiming that her stepmother failed to create a limited liability company to hold various artistic properties as per her father’s estate plan, and she alleges this company would be divided equally between his widow and children. She also wishes to be part of decisions taken on posthumous releases and business ventures. Since Petty’s death, two tracks have been released.

Unique situation when administering estates

Parents of children from previous marriages often use estate-planning to ensure those children are provided for when they die, as well as their spouse. Without proper planning, another possibility is that the spouse inherits the estate and it is passed to their children when he or she dies, rather than to the children of the deceased.

It seems as if Tom Petty sought to include his wife and daughters as well as he could, but in estate planning there is a need to ensure that those entrusted with decision making can work with one another and sometimes hard decisions need to be made, rather than hoping that family bonds will override dissent.

In the Petty saga, there are two sides both saying ‘I Won’t Back Down’. Let’s hope ‘It’ll All Work Out’ for the family...

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