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Tom Petty's Estate | Stepmother Heartbreak & Litigation

Tom Petty Estate Battle.jpg

Image Credit: Irina Lepneva and Sleephia

Tom Petty was an American original - a singer, a songwriter, an actor, and an instrumentalist who formed the iconic group Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in 1976. By the time of his death in 2017 at age 66 from of an accidental drug overdose, his music catalog was valued in the tens of millions.

Like many estates of successful rock 'n roll musicians, Petty left behind an extended family: children from a first marriage, two daughters named Adria and Annakim, and a widowed stepmother named Dana.

My recent book, Alzheimer's, Widowed Stepmothers & Estate Crimes, highlights some of the persistent issues between children of first marriages and widowed stepmothers.

Even in best case scenarios, widowed stepmothers and their stepchildren often disagree over legacies, all the more so when millions of dollars are at stake. Unfortunately for the Petty family, their disagreement boiled over and is now headed to Los Angeles Superior Court, where a lawsuit was filed earlier last week by Petty's two daughters against their stepmother.

The issue that Petty's daughters seek to resolve concerns the meaning of the term "equal participation." According to Tom Petty's will, he wanted his daughters and his second wife to participate equally in handling the assets of his estate, which consisted primarily of his music catalog. His daughters interpret the will's verbiage to mean that each daughter should have a vote in decision-making.

The term 'equal participation,' however, means something different to Petty's widow, Dana. She and her stepchildren may share 50/50 in the proceeds of his estate, but key decisions are to be made by her, not them.

Dana's lawyer says that she was named the sole trustee of Tom's estate, and therefore she has sole authority to manage the estate's assets.

So what went wrong? And could this situation have been avoided?

While we don't know all the facts, it's clear that Tom Petty died unexpectedly, and that he had not sufficiently discussed with his family his specific plans for managing his estate after he died. As we've seen time and again, communication between children and step-parents, especially in complex families, is crucial if conflicts are to be avoided. Because of the wording of Tom Petty's will, and because he probably did not anticipate and did not plan for an early demise, he inadvertently created a gray zone in his estate documents.

The lesson is clear: early and frequent communication between all parties, even when those conversations are difficult, is the only practical way to head off future legal disputes.

In my opinion, although this case has now gone to Court, the Petty family will likely resolve this dispute sooner than later. In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Adria Petty was quoted as saying,

"I have no doubt in my mind everything is going to work out. From the bottom of my heart, I love Dana and my family. And I love the Heartbreakers. They're my family too. It's just going to take a minute for everyone to catch their breath."

Words well said.

Let's hope the Petty family can come together to resolve this matter, dare I say before it creates further heartbreak for them all.

Before you go, please let me know if you'd like to receive a free copy of my first book, The Wolf at the Door, or my new book, Alzheimer's, Widowed Stepmothers & Estate Crimes. Just send your address in an email to me at [email protected], and I'll be glad to put one in the mail.

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