Tom Petty’s Story
Tom Petty, one of the best-selling musicians of all time died in 2017 at the age of 66 following an accidental drug overdose. He named his wife Dana as sole trustee of his estate but instructed her to set up a new limited liability company to manage his most valuable asset, his music catalogue.
Unfortunately, he did not clearly state who was to be in charge of this new company, which was called Tom Petty Legacy. The trust provided that his daughters from his first marriage were to have “equal participation” with his second wife in decisions about how Petty’s catalogue was to be used. His wife interpreted “equal participation” in decisions to mean 50% control for her and 50% for the daughters. The daughters, not surprisingly, interpreted it to mean that each of the three would have 1/3 control, meaning that the daughters together would have the majority vote. After a good deal of bitterness and legal expense, the three settled the issues in December 2019.
Lawyer’s comment: If your will appoints more than one person to take charge of your estate, it is important to set out clearly what will happen if they disagree. Of course, you hope they will see eye-to-eye, but you don’t want them to have to go to court to settle any differences. This can be especially problematic if the trustees include a new spouse and a child from a previous marriage. Do not assume that your spouse and your children from a previous marriage will get along.