It was Professor Plum, in the library, with the lead pipe.

Many law school professors test their students by presenting long and complicated fact patterns which must be analyzed issue by issue. When the law student graduates, he or she must then pass a state-specific exam consisting of the same sort of questions. These essay questions are designed to cover a broad range of topics in each area. The fact patterns are long and occasionally outrageous. For example, in the criminal law section of my Massachusetts Bar Exam I had to write an essay about the following fact pattern:

Guy 1 hires Guy 2 to kill Guy 1’s Wife. Guy 1 pays Guy 2 with a bag of drugs. Guy 2 goes to Guy 1’s house to kill Wife. Guy 2 breaks the glass in the kitchen door, reaches through, turns the door handle, and lets himself in, only to find Guy 1 and Wife in their kitchen arguing violently. Wife realizes Guy 2 is there to kill her so she stabs herself (thereby killing her unborn child). Wife dies 366 days later. Examine the issues.

Needless to say, real life rarely introduces such issue-packed cases. The administration of the $60 million estate of American painter Thomas Kinkade is an exception to that rule, packing enough legal elements to satisfy any bar examiner. In addition to the handwritten wills that I discussed in an earlier post, Mr. Kinkade’s girlfriend Amy Pinto-Walsh has refused to move out of the home she shared with the decedent. As a result, the estate has been footing the bill for the mortgage each month and sending Pinto-Walsh bills for rent, upkeep and maintenance.

Additionally, Kinkade’s wife Nanette Kinkade has filed court documents contesting the handwritten wills and accusing Pinto-Walsh of taking advantage of Kinkade as he escalated his alcohol and drug use, became estranged from his wife and four daughters, and ultimately died of toxic levels of alcohol and valium. Mrs. Kinkade is accusing Pionto-Walsh of using her influence over Mr. Kinkade to get the artist to change his will on several occasions near the end of his life.

Finally, the Kinkades were residents of California, a community property state. One-half of Mr. Kinkade’s estate therefore belonged to Mrs. Kinkade at her husband’s death – since they were separated, but not divorced. The court battles are all being fought over control of the other half, which is estimated to be worth about $30 million.

Very few of us will ever make millions by selling our paintings, but our estates may run into the same issues Mr. Kinkade’s has: imperfectly executed or updated documents, substance abuse issues, fighting relatives and charges of improper influence over mom or dad. It is also likely that the states in which we live and die will play a significant part in the administration (and taxation!) of our final affairs.

Many problems can be avoided with proper planning. Sometimes the best answer is to appoint a neutral party to play referee or to manage assets, other times the answer is formally documenting your wishes in the appropriate manner. Whatever the issues, the planning starts with communicating concerns over potential problems to your attorneys and advisors.

Jeff Cheyne and I will be discussing some of the common errors in estate planning and administration at an upcoming seminar in our office. If you would like to join us from 7:30-9:00 am on Tuesday August 23, please rsvp by calling our office at (503) 226-2966 or by email at We will be discussing a broad spectrum of issues – from well drafted wills that don’t control any assets, to dying with no will at all – and many topics in between. Light refreshments will be provided.

Painter of light; writer of Wills?

The family of artist Thomas Kinkade is doing what many families do after the loss of a loved one (particularly when the loved one is wealthy): “lawyering up” to fight over the estate.

Mr. Kinkade was an American painter who passed away in April of 2012. He referred to himself as the Painter of Light and he was America’s most collected contemporary artist at the time of his death. Mr. Kinkade left behind an estate worth over $60 million, a wife from whom he was legally separated, and a girlfriend who had lived with him for more than a year.

A probate court in Santa Clara, California is now faced with the following arguments: In one corner is the decedent’s wife (from whom he was separated), who is arguing for the administration of the formal estate plan the couple had prepared during their marriage. In the other corner is the girlfriend, who has presented two handwritten wills to the court that leave the girlfriend Mr. Kinkade’s home, his studio and $10 million to establish a museum to display Mr. Kinkade’s paintings. Will these holographic (handwritten) wills stand up in court? Stay tuned, as that remains to be determined.

What is certain at this point is that Mr. Kinkade could have saved his family loads of unwanted publicity (and legal expenses) if he had executed a formal plan that outlined his wishes for the museum and the gifts to his girlfriend. Handwritten wills may hold up in some courts; however an estate plan is more likely to survive challenges if the family takes the time to execute proper documents in accordance with the appropriate state laws. Mr. Kinkade should have also been advised to formally amend or replace his estate planning documents as his relationship changed with his wife.

Properly executing and updating estate planning documents requires an investment of time and money. Improperly prepared documents may force family members into making far more substantial investments to protect their rights after we’re gone. 

You can find more on the Kinkade dispute here:–finance.html