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Probate dispute could get tricky in Kinkade case

Many of our Detroit-area readers are probably familiar with the artwork of Thomas Kinkade. His painting style spawned a huge commercial art enterprise that made him a very wealthy man. Sadly, Kinkade passed away back in April, and although he had a will at the time of his death, a dispute over some of his handwritten notations has resulted in probate litigation.

At the time of his death, Kinkade had been separated from his wife for over two years. He lived with his girlfriend, and the handwritten notes on his will directly state a desire for some of his assets to go to the girlfriend upon his death. The two notes date back to late 2011 -- just months before the artist died. Kinkade's widow takes issue the girlfriend's claims and is seeking to have the dispute resolved in secret arbitration. Kincade's girlfriend, however, wants the arguments heard in open court.

The legal filings in the case deal mostly with the authenticity of the handwritten notes, as well as their legality concerning the estate administration. Courts generally do not look favorably on handwritten changes to wills, mostly because it can be extremely hard to prove that the notes are authentic, even if the notes are signed and dated.

In Kinkade's case, it appears that his girlfriend will have a hard time proving the legitimacy of the notes, but it is not outside the realm of possibility that the court will rule in her favor. The will maker's intent is usually paramount, and probate courts will typically try to make sure that the will maker's end-of-life wishes are respected. The probate process can be complex and lengthy, but discerning an estate owner's intentions can make all the difference, especially in cases dealing with high-value estates.

Source: Yahoo! News, "Dispute over Thomas Kinkade's will heads to court," June 13, 2012

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