Thomas Kinkade, the “Painter of Light,” is best known for his works of beautiful cottages, villages and churches – paintings of idyllic country life. In April of this year Kinkade died of an accidental overdose of alcohol and valium. The Kinkade estate battle that has transpired since then has not been beautiful country life.
At the time of his death, Kinkade had been separated from his wife of 30 years, Nannette Kinkade, and in a relationship with Amy Pinto.
Pinto claims that the Kinkade estate left her the painter’s home and studio (which they had resided in together during their 18 month relationship) as well as $10 million and original art for the purpose of establishing a museum.
This is where things get tricky. Pinto claims that the Kinkade estate left her this property in two holographic wills. A holographic will is a handwritten will. Only about half of the states recognize such wills, and California, is one of them. Mr. Kinkade’s wife, Nanette, submitted a different will for probate of the Kinkade estate. That will, written in 2000 leaves most of the assets to a living trust set up in 1997.
So what lessons can we learn?
- Marriage can change the ownership of your property. It does not mean that you would no longer own your property. However, once you are married, property you own or acquire can become marital property even if that is not what the title says. In the Kinkade estate, the home he was sharing with Pinto could be considered marital property, even though it may be solely in his name. As such, the Kinkade estate may not be able to give it to Pinto.
- Marriage does not end when you file for divorce or become legally separated. Uniform Probate Code Legislation in Massachusetts dictates that spouses are entitled to inherit a certain amount from each other – unless otherwise agreed to, such as in the case of a prenuptial agreement. In Massachusetts divorce can also void your appointment of your spouse as beneficiary of either a probate or non-probate asset. However, though Thomas and Nannette were separated, they were not yet divorced.
- There is a difference between probate and non-probate assets. A probate asset is one that passes by the terms of your will, or by the intestacy statute if you die without a will. A non-probate asset passes outside of this process. For example, in a life insurance policy, or a 401(k), you appoint a beneficiary. The person you appoint will receive this money upon your death, even if you appoint someone different in your will.
In the first holographic will, the Kinkade estates leaves Pinto $10 million from a life insurance policy. Because a life insurance policy is a non-probate asset, this transfer is not valid. If Kinkade wanted Pinto to receive this amount from the policy, he would have to do so through changing the beneficiary appointment in his life insurance policy.
The second holographic will mentions art, and an additional $10 million bequest as part of the Kinkade estate. However, most of his art and assets were already placed in his trust, another non-probate asset. Again, if he wanted Pinto to have any of the things in this trust, he would have to amend the trust.
That’s a lot to remember. Key point: Always review your estate planning with your attorney after any life-changing event: separation, divorce, death in the family, and the birth of a new baby.
If you or a loved one are experience a life-changing event, or if it has simply been a while since your last review, contact Attorney Kristina Vickstrom. Handling all matters of estate planning, elder law, and long-term care planning, Attorney Vickstrom can ensure that no matter where you are in your life, your wishes will be carried out as you intend them.