The SafeEstates Blog

Being Clear About Who’s The Boss

Singer-songwriter, musician and producer Tom Petty died in October 2017 thinking he had a good estate plan. He created a trust and named his widow, Dana York Petty, the trustee. The trust beneficiaries are Dana and Tom’s two daughters (Adria and Annakim) from a previous marriage. This seems like a clear and simple plan. However, the trust terms also say he wants Adria and Annakim to have “equal participation” in making decisions. Dana says she is the trustee and has final say on decisions; Adria and Annakim say majority rules. Dana wants the court to establish who is in charge; the daughters have sued for damages claiming Dana has grossly mismanaged Tom’s music legacy and business opportunities.
I have not seen the will or trust; I have only read what is available in media reports. It seems to me if we could ask Tom what he intended, he would be surprised his intent could be misinterpreted or used to fuel a dispute. It may be that his loved ones wanted to fight it out no matter how clearly Tom expressed his wishes.
My clients often propose “equal participation” decision making by their children or other beneficiaries. I generally favor one decision maker at a time, with clear boundaries and objectives and a high level of communication and accountability. This makes the choice of executor and trustee extra important and perhaps more difficult. However, I can only advise and whatever the client decides is what goes in the documents.
Our process in estate planning is designed to allow our clients ample time to review and understand their documents before they sign. We gain clarity when we see our ideas in writing. By reviewing the proposed documents with our clients a week or more before signing day, we can talk through and fix the parts that need fixing. We want our clients to sign with confidence and commitment, so they will have a plan that works when they need it.
If you have concerns about who to leave in charge of your estate, we are here to help you make an informed, intelligent decision.