North Carolina fans of the late musician Tom Petty may be aware that his family has been locked in a battle over his estate. At issue is the ambiguity of the language used in his estate planning documents.
Petty created a trust and made his wife the trustee. However, the documents also state that all artistic properties must then be transferred from the trust to a limited liability company. His wife and his two daughters from a previous relationship are supposed to be able to “participate equally” in managing the LLC. Petty’s daughters say this means that each of them has equal voting rights. Petty’s wife wanted to have a professional manage the limited liability company. Furthermore, she says that the person she chose as manager was approved by one of the daughters until the professional disagreed with the daughter’s choice about how to manage Petty’s assets.
It is not clear whether or not Petty intended for equal participation to mean equal voting rights, and he could have specified this in the trust. However, trusts of this nature usually do need to be managed by a professional, and he could have named a corporate trustee. Ultimately, the courts will decide. It is not uncommon for blended families with far fewer assets to encounter conflict after a person’s death over assets and unclear language.
A person who is named as an executor or trustee may be better able to interpret a person’s wishes if those wishes were discussed. Even when the estate plan is not ambiguous, being named as an executor or trustee can be overwhelming, particularly for someone who lacks a financial and legal background. People who are in charge of estate administration may hire professionals, such as an attorney, to assist with probate administration. This can include locating and distributing assets and filing taxes.