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Darkness Descends on “Painter of Light” Estate

The dispute over Thomas Kinkade's multimillion-dollar estate has come down to two barely legible Wills that leave his girlfriend his mansion and $10 million and three burning questions: did he write them? Was he coerced? And, finally, was he really of sound mind and body?

Writing your Last Will and Testament is a simple accomplishment, right… well, maybe. Remember, your Will has to survive you (the drafter) and, more importantly, it has to withstand the scrutiny of those who will interpret it after you’ve died.

Such is the tragic case of Thomas Kinkade, the artist known as the “Painter of Light.” I followed this talented painter for many years.  As reported in an article titled “Validity of wills at center of dispute over artist Thomas Kinkade's estate” in the Sacramento Bee, not only did Kinkade have a Will, he had three of them. The first Will was drafted in favor of his wife as beneficiary but was written well before their estrangement and subsequent divorce. The other two are quite favorable to his live-in girlfriend of 18 months. As you can imagine, the tension is high. The legal fees could get high, as well.

Here’s the rub: the Wills that named the girlfriend as primary beneficiary are handwritten and crudely constructed whereas Kinkade’s initial Will is even, clean, and deliberate. Under California law, a handwritten Will, even an unnotarized one, can be valid. Regardless, if Kinkade had prepared the handwritten Last Wills while he was drunk and unduly influenced, he may not have had the requisite capacity to create such documents.

If Kinkade was an alcoholic (according to the coroner, Kinkaid died of a lethal dose of alcohol), does that mean that neither of his handwritten Wills are valid? It’s not clear because alcoholics (as well as those with other types of addictions) can legally act with the required intent when it comes to estate planning.

In the end, the fight over the Kinkade estate is likely to be a spectacle. Expect to see a parade of witnesses, expert and otherwise, as his ex-wife and girlfriend fight over the millions this talented artist left behind.

Reference: The Sacramento Bee (June 19, 2012) “Validity of wills at center of dispute over artist Thomas Kinkade's estate

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