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Thomas Kinkade's late girlfriend faces uphill battle in will contest

In a previous post, we wrote about the death of Thomas Kinkade earlier this year. As we noted, the 54-year-old painter died of accidental alcohol and Valium overdose, leaving behind over $66 million. Not long after his death, his estranged wife of 30 years and his girlfriend became locked in a battle over Kinkade's estate.

The dispute involves the validity of Kinkade's will. Kinkade's wife appeals to a will drawn up in 2000. Under that will, $12.48 million in assets is left in a living trust, which already contains most of the assets Kinkade left behind, including art, intellectual property rights and shares in his business. The girlfriend, in her probate application submitted two handwritten documents, which together leave $66.3 million worth of assets to her to set up a museum.

The wills presented by Kinkade's girlfriend are holographic wills, which she argues are valid. In California, such will must be written completely in the person's own handwriting and be signed. If the probate court finds the wills to be valid, Kinkade's wife will have the burden of proving some ground for contesting them.

Even if the wills are found to be valid, Kinkade's girlfriend still faces the problem that Kinkade did not change his life insurance policy-which accounts for $10 million-to make her the beneficiary. There are other complications with other property Kinkade and his wife owned at the time of his death.

One of the interesting lessons that comes out of this story is that it is important to revise your estate plan if you are separated from your spouse and heading toward divorce. Depending on the state, disinherited spouses are entitled to inherit a minimum portion of each other's assets until the divorce is finalized. The only exception would be if they gave up such rights in a prenuptial agreement. Other assets like life insurance or IRAs can be tricky too, since many states don't permit a change of beneficiaries until the divorce is finalized.

The best policy, for those face these uncertainties, is to consult an attorney experienced in family law and estate planning and find out the proper course of action.

Source: Forbes, "In Battle For Thomas Kinkade Estate, Girlfriend Doesn't Have A Prayer," Deborah L. Jacobs, August 22, 2012

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