Alan Thicke’s estate proving to be a cautionary tale about communication

Communication of your exact wishes is a very important aspect of estate planning.

The estate of beloved actor and commercial songwriter Alan Thicke is proving to be a contentious one, and it's boiling down to conflicting terms in some of the legal documents themselves and a lack of communication between the deceased entertainer, his third wife and his eldest sons. You may remember that Thicke suddenly died back in December, after suffering an aortic aneurysm while playing hockey with his youngest son. His unexpected and untimely demise left his survivors reeling, and even though he had extensive estate planning documentation, in-fighting soon followed between his third wife and two oldest sons.

Thicke's estate was substantial, including a hefty life insurance policy, acreage and a ranch home in California, a living trust, personal property, pensions, retirement accounts and more.

Conflicting documentation?

The living trust, signed in 2016, seems to conflict with certain provisions and property designations set forth in a prenuptial agreement signed by Thicke and wife Tanya Callau Thicke prior to their 2005 marriage.

In particular, the prenuptial agreement delineates that Tanya is entitled to 25 percent of the entirety of Thicke's estate, as well as five acres of ranchland and certain community assets. The living trust, however, grants her the proceeds of a $500,000 life insurance policy, 40 percent of remaining estate assets (after designations for Thicke's three sons), as well as union pension and death benefits. The living trust also splits ownership of the California estate among Thicke's three sons, but states that Tanya is allowed to stay in the ranch home indefinitely, so long as she maintains the property and pays related expenses like the mortgage and for upkeep.

Family in-fighting

Not long after the entertainer's death, a rather publicized disagreement arose between his late wife and his two oldest sons, pop singer Robin and actor Brennan. Thicke's sons accused his wife of attempting to invalidate the prenuptial agreement so that she'd be entitled to a higher share of estate assets and have the right to retain possession of the couple's California home (owned by Thicke, purchased in 1989, long before his third marriage).

The disagreement about apportionment of estate assets led Robin and Brennan to file a legal complaint back in May to enforce the living trust document. The two reportedly are interested in turning the ranch into a medicinal marijuana farm.

Thicke's estate is proving to be a cautionary tale for estate planning professionals and the general public, particularly concerning the importance of clearly communicating your wishes to your loved ones in order to stave off squabbles. It also highlights the need to periodically review your estate plan to make sure it is still current and doesn't conflict with other legal documents (like the contested prenuptial agreement at issue here).

If you are entering into a subsequent marriage, a prenuptial agreement is a must, and everybody needs an estate plan, regardless of wealth level. The key is drafting these documents in such a way that assets are protected, wishes are followed and that they are all independently legally enforceable; serious conflicts between them could result in the unfortunate situation of having one or more documents voided.

Having an experienced estate planning attorney prepare your will and trust, as well as review your prenuptial agreement in the context of your greater remaining estate, can prevent such contention and disputes as the one currently plaguing the Thicke family. To learn more from a skilled California estate planning lawyer, contact the Pleasanton-based Law Offices of Connie Yi, PC. Call today at 888-312-6978 or contact them online.