What We Can Learn from the Thomas Kinkade Estate Dispute


High Profile will and trust challenges often provide a cautionary tale for the general public.  Such is the case with the litigation surrounding the estate of Thomas Kinkade. The chaos and acrimony in the Kinkade case strongly highlights why you should always seek legal assistance when making changes to your estate plan.

Thomas Kinkade was a famous American painter known for his portrayal of bucolic, idyllic scenes and the use of pastels and glowing highlights in his work.  He was often referred to as the “Painter of Light” because of his frequent use of the artistic style of luminism.  At the time of his untimely death in 2012, he was one of the most commercially successful painters of the twentieth century.

Kinkade was living with his girlfriend, Amy Pinto-Walsh, when he died of an accidental overdose of alcohol and valium.  He was fifty-four years old and had been separated from his wife of thirty years, Nanette Kinkade, for an extended period of time, although they had not yet divorced. 

Following his death, both Mrs. Kinkade and Ms. Pinto-Walsh produced estate planning documents for probate that each claimed represented Thomas Kinkade’s final wishes.  Mrs. Kinkade submitted an estate plan that had been drafted by an attorney and executed by both she and Thomas in 2000. The will and trust that Mrs. Kincade submitted did not name Ms. Pinto-Walsh as a beneficiary. Ms. Pinto-Walsh produced two handwritten documents which were allegedly written and signed by Thomas in 2011.  Ms. Pinto-Walsh claimed that the hand written wills revoked the prior will and trust and left her millions of dollars, much of Thomas’s art collection, and a mansion. 

A handwritten will is known as a Holographic Will.  Many states recognize the validity of Holographic Wills, including California where Thomas Kinkade resided and died.  Pennsylvania also recognizes Holographic Wills as valid.  However, a handwritten will in Pennsylvania may be subject to unintended inquiry and interpretation and is ultimately not the device that you want to use when planning your estate. 

The result of Thomas Kinkade’s use of a handwritten will was a lengthy, acrimonious, and extremely expensive legal battle.  The public will never know the final outcome of the dispute, as the parties reached a confidential settlement nearly a year after his death.  And sadly, because Kinkade did not review and update his estate plan with a lawyer, we will also never know if the settlement was an accurate reflection of his wishes.

The key takeaway from this unfortunate case is that in order to ensure that your final wishes are carried out in the way that you desire, you should always seek assistance from an experienced attorney when making changes to your estate plan. 

We recommend that you review and update your estate plan every few years.  In the event that you experience a major life event, such as a marriage or divorce, or the addition of a child to your family, you should contact us immediately so that we can help you make sure that your loved ones are provided for in accordance with your wishes. 

Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you need help with estate planning. We can help you draft wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and other related estate planning documents. We would love to have the opportunity to help you plan and accomplish all of your estate planning goals. 

Please give us a call at 610-933-8069 or reach us on the web here.

Protecting Yourself, Your Wealth, and Your Heirs!

David M. Frees, III
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Attorney, Speaker and Author
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