As Riverside probate litigation attorneys, we often find that highly publicized Will and trust contests that involve famous people can be very instructive to the general public. With this in mind, there was a situation that unfolded a number of years ago that garnered a lot of attention in the media and within the estate planning community. We recently published a blog post about the different types of Wills that exist, and this case definitely underscores the risky nature of what are known as Holographic Wills.
A Holographic Will is a handwritten document that is composed in the testator’s own words and signed. Holographic Wills are legal in California. Other types of Wills must be witnessed, but in California, a Holographic Will does not have to be witnessed to be deemed valid by the court (although that is not a bad idea). However, the material provisions must be written by the testator, and it has to be signed by the testator as well.
Thomas Kinkade was a famous painter who achieved a great deal of fame and success throughout his life. He was referred to as “the Painter of Light” due to his portrayal of light in his paintings. He passed away in Monte Sereno, California in April 2012. He was just 54 years of age at the time. An autopsy was conducted, and it was determined that he died of acute intoxication due to a mixture of diazepam and alcohol. At the time of his death, he was living with his girlfriend, Amy Pinto-Walsh. She stated that Thomas Kincade died in his sleep peacefully with her by his side. They had been cohabitating for about a year and a half at the time of the his death.
Pinto-Walsh produced two Holographic Wwills leaving her millions of dollars and a spectacular hillside mansion. They were supposedly written by Thomas Kinkade, but the handwriting was almost illegible. This raised a red flag. On the other hand, he did have a drinking problem, so it would be logical to assume that this could have played into it. A Will of any type is not valid if it was executed when the testator was not of sound mind, and extreme intoxication could impact sound decision-making.
These handwritten Holographic Wills were not the only estate planning documents that Thomas Kinkade executed. Though they had been separated for an extended period of time, the artist was still legally married at the time of his death. His wife, Nanette, was in possession of an estate plan drafted by an attorney that she had executed along with her husband. As you may imagine, it did not name Amy Pinto-Walsh as an beneficiary.
There was a lot of acrimony and it appeared as though probate litigation was going to be necessary to sort out the situation. However, after much trial preparation and an extended mediation, a settlement was reached between the two parties. The settlement was confidential and the details were never released to the public and under the terms of the agreement, they could not be spoken about by either party.
We will never really know if the outcome was exactly what Thomas Kinkade would have wanted. This definitely underscores the importance of legal assistance when you want to make changes to your estate plan because circumstances in your life have changed. Simply getting out a pen and paper can seem like a simple, hassle-free solution, especially when you have no reason to believe that you are going to pass away anytime soon. However, as you can see from the Thomas Kincade case, you never know what the future holds, and you can make sure that everyone that you care about is provided for in accordance with your wishes if you engage the appropriate legal counsel.
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If you would like to discuss a potential probate litigation, Will or trust contest, or defense of a Will or trust by the trustee with one of our Riverside probate litigation lawyers, we would be more than glad to help. You can schedule a consultation right now by visiting our website or giving us a call at 951-888-1460.