When Tom Petty died in 2017, he left behind a trust containing his music catalog. His widow was named trustee. However, the terms of the trust said that Petty’s two daughters were to have “equal participation” in decisions about how his music would be used after his death.
Petty’s daughters interpret the term “equal participation” to mean that they each have one vote and Petty’s widow has one vote. In other words, they would have majority control. Petty’s widow has interpreted the phrase to mean that she has half control and the two daughters share half control.
Petty’s widow, Dana York Petty, has been making decisions about the music catalog. Since Petty’s death, the trust has released two compilations, “An American Treasure” and “The Best of Everything.”
These two releases were issued despite conflict between the three heirs. According to reports, the daughters disputed the content, credits, liner notes and release dates.
In April, Dana York Petty filed a petition in probate court to allow her to put the music catalog into the hands of a professional manager. She complained that at least one of Petty’s daughters, Adria Petty, had made any orderly conduct of the business difficult. Adria Petty filed a counter-petition seeking control over the estate.
Now, the two daughters have filed a separate lawsuit seeking $5 million in damages from Dana York Petty for depriving them of the equal participation in decision-making that they are entitled to under the terms of the trust.
“This misguided and meritless lawsuit sadly demonstrates exactly why Tom Petty designated his wife to be the sole trustee with authority to manage his estate,” responded the widow’s lawyer. “Dana will not allow destructive nonsense like this to distract her from protecting her husband’s legacy.”
Many probate disputes can be avoided by careful estate planning
In this case, there may be completely legitimate arguments on both sides. Without having access to the trust, we can’t say whether Petty’s widow or daughters have the stronger argument about what “equal participation” was intended to mean.
This is an example of why it’s important to work with an experienced estate planning attorney. A lawyer with experience handling both estate plans and probate disputes can help you see your estate plan from the point of view of someone who intends to dispute it. This can help you draft the plan in a way that reduces the potential for dispute.
Additionally, if you are named executor of an estate, you don’t have to handle the probate process on your own. Especially if a challenge to the will or estate plan arises, you can hire a probate attorney to help you manage the issues.