For New Yorkers, drafting a will is an important tool to guarantee a person's property gets distributed in accord with their preferences. When those preferences seemingly change, but the will is kept the same, probate litigation can often occur.
That is exactly what appears to have happened in a probate dispute between the widow and girlfriend of deceased artist Thomas Kinkade, who left an estate reportedly worth $66 million.
Recently, the probate court adjudicating the dispute had a hearing over whether to send the matter to an arbitration panel, which would keep the matter private, or to probate court, which would make the case a matter of public record.
The dispute centers around a handwritten note Kinkade purportedly wrote that allegedly bequeathed his mansion as well as $10 million to his girlfriend.
The man's wife of 50 years has challenged the girlfriend's claim. The artist and his wife were legally separated, but not divorced, at the time of his death. She is seeking receipt of the entire estate.
As demonstrated here, the probate process can be contentious. Fortunately, for many New Yorkers, several strategies exist to avoid probate altogether, including giving gifts during one's lifetime, which eliminates any ambiguity about the gift's intent.
Second, a person can enter a joint ownership with a right to survivorship. This kind of ownership exists when two or more people share property together and satisfy several other legal requirements. At death, the decedent's interest in the property automatically transfers to the other owners. A trust would have been another option.
Had Kinkade given the mansion and money to his girlfriend, created a joint ownership with the right of survivorship in the mansion, established a revocable trust or simply amended his will, his wife and girlfriend would not be fighting over his estate now.
Source: The Washington Post