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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

Artist's vision blurry in handwritten will

Art lovers in Minneapolis and St. Paul may be familiar with the nearly ubiquitous works of Thomas Kinkade. His paintings have been widely reproduced and have found their way into the homes of fans nationwide through a franchise of licensed galleries.

Since the artist's death earlier this year, a probate dispute has arisen between Kincade's estranged wife of 30 years and his girlfriend with whom he spent the final years of his life. The ongoing conflict over the artist's will centers on the validity of handwritten notes supposedly prepared by the artist to memorialize gifts to his girlfriend.

In probate court, the girlfriend revealed the handwritten notes, which appear to make gifts of a house and $10 million in cash to the girlfriend, along with an additional bequest of $10 million for the purpose of establishing a memorial museum. In addition to asking the court to recognize the notes as valid testamentary gifts, the girlfriend is seeking appointment as administrator of a $66.3 million portion of the artist's estate.

Kincade's wife, however, asserts that the girlfriend exploited the artist and seeks only to deprive his rightful heirs of their fair shares of inheritance. The wife secured a restraining order against her late husband's companion shortly after the artist's death. The wife is also requesting that estate administration be conducted through secret arbitration.

Minnesota law may recognize separate will documents as legally valid testamentary instruments, but only if certain conditions are met. It remains to be seen whether the artist's home state of California will give his handwritten notes binding effect.

Source: Star Tribune, "Wife, girlfriend take dispute over painter Thomas Kinkade's estate, handwritten will to court," June 12, 2012

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