Tom Petty Estate Fight, Part I: Blended Family Issues

When musician Tom Petty passed away in 2017, he left behind a blended family. What is a blended family? Quite simply, a blended family is one consisting of a couple and their children from their previous and (possibly current) relationships. While many people make this arrangement work very well in life, things can get extremely contentious among the survivors when one parent passes away. This is especially true when there is a family business or other significant assets left behind to be administered on an ongoing basis.

In the case of the late Mr. Petty, there are creative properties, copyrights, trademarks and unreleased recorded music to be administered. These assets, if deployed in an optimal way, can create a lot of value for the survivors via a trust agreement. Obviously, it takes a person or a team with both creative and business acumen to maximize the value of these assets. Considering that the copyrights Mr. Petty has/had will continue in force until the year 2087 (remember the duration of copyright lasts seventy (70) years from the death of the copyright holder), the administrator of the estate and/or trust should be someone well versed with Mr. Petty’s catalogue and fan base.

Back to the blended family aspects of this. No matter how much you may want to encourage your survivors to get along in your estate planning documents, you will never be able to force people to get along, especially if you were the common bond that held step children and a step parent together in life. Mr. Petty’s estate is now involved in litigation among his survivors over control of the creative properties, among many other issues, and these matters are generally not concluded rapidly.

There are several takeaways from this situation for people with blended families:

  1. If relationships are tenuous among step siblings or between step siblings and step parents, those relationships will likely not improve when your estate is being administered. Work on those relationships while you can;

  2. People can and will do unpredictable and unreasonable things when there are estate dollars involved. The larger the dollars, the more unpredictable and extreme the behavior can be; and

  3. The last person you want making a decision about how your estate is to be administered is a judge or a court master who knows nothing about your creative work, history, situation, etc;

In the next essay, we will explore the issues surrounding the cultivation of the creative properties left behind.

If you have any questions, Tuk Law is in the business of helping people plan for the estate and business succession.

Contact us for details.