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Heartbreaker: probate dispute complicates Tom Petty estate

If you drive northwest of Cocoa for about 160 miles, you’ll come to Tom Petty’s Florida birthplace. The legendary rocker was born in Gainesville back in 1950 and died a year and a half ago in his Los Angeles home of an accidental drug overdose.

According to recent news reports, the singer-songwriter’s widow, Dana York Petty, is currently battling his daughter, Adria, from his first marriage, in probate court for control of his estate. Their dispute could affect the releases of recordings from his music catalog.

Two compilations have already been released since the 66-year-old’s untimely death. More compilation releases are planned, including a 25th anniversary edition of his “Wildflowers” album that is slated to include unreleased tracks from those recording sessions. Fans will be dismayed to learn that the probate dispute puts those plans in doubt, however.

Dana York Petty says in her court filing that she is sole trustee of her late husband’s trust and that she is directed by the trust to create an entity to control the catalog, with equal participation from his two daughters. The dispute is over the meaning of “equal participation.” The daughters believe it means they can control the catalog with their two votes, while Dana York Petty wants a professional manager to operate the catalog – with the approval of all three parties.

Adria Petty recently filed a probate petition in which she asked for an order that would effectively grant her control of the valuable catalog.

Dana York Petty argues that Adria has already done damage to the estate by threatening cancellation of projects, changing her mind on important decisions and issuing directives without first consulting her.

Dana York Petty claims that Adria wants to leave the name of Tom Petty’s band, the Heartbreakers, off of a “best of” compilation and claims the daughter wrote a letter to some Heartbreakers members saying she doesn’t want her “entire life raped” and that she doesn’t want to be “surrounded by selfish, unreliable people and drug addicts.”

We don’t know how these matters will be resolved in court, but we do know that careful estate planning can help resolve potentially difficult, emotional disputes before they manifest themselves. Talk to an estate planning attorney about the tools and options available to you.


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