When Probate Isn’t Simple

We work with probate and wills and estates every day. Every time we think we’ve seen it all, something new comes up. Probate matters can cross over into almost every imaginable area of the law while, certainly, involving all manner of human emotions.

Today’s proof of that is the Alan Thicke estate. You probably remember him as the dad in Growing Pains. The psychiatrist dad who moved his office into the family’s house so he could help out with the kids while super-mom Joanna Kerns went back to work as a reporter. Or, you may remember him as Kirk Cameron’s dad. Or, the guy on that show that gave Leonardo DiCaprio his start. And, more than a few think of him solely as Robin Thicke’s dad.

Thicke, though, was more than that. Much more. He was on dozens of shows over a very long career. He was a prolific and successful song writer. The Growing Pains theme song is one of his. It’s an iconic TV theme and sold records outside the show.

Alan Thicke married three times. His final marriage was in 2005 to a woman 28 years his junior. Unsurprisingly, there was a prenuptial agreement. They had no children.

Thicke died very unexpectedly while playing hockey last December. He apparently had completed some estate planning in February 2016, a living trust was set up and his oldest sons from his first marriage were made the trustees.

His children from his first two marriages were given the bulk of his estate, including his enormous California ranch. His widow was to walk away with furnishings from the ranch, 25% of Thicke’s ‘personal effects’, and a small percentage of whatever remained from the estate after distribution to the children.

She also received – and if you’ve been following our blog you know this was distributed outside of probate – life insurance proceeds, and his pension and retirement funds as the sole beneficiary. The trust specifies that she is allowed to remain in the house on the ranch for  life, as long as she ‘maintains the property and pays all expenses.’ 

It should be noted at this point that Alan Thicke’s estate will be receiving income from residuals from TV shows and songs for many, many years.

The widow is suing the estate and challenging the twelve-year old pre-nup. The trustees are hunkering down and fighting back. Hard. There are problems here we see everyday – the widow living in a house she no longer owns but is responsible for the upkeep; challenges in defining, valuing and splitting ‘personal effects; reconciling the pre-nup with subsequent estate planning; putting a value on income streams that may last for years.

All this on top of dealing with a sudden, unexpected death.

Take aware the high-profile and tabloid coverage and it’s one of our cases, just with a couple of new twists.