On June 21, 2012

Many Colorado residents may wonder what it takes for a hand-crafted will to be considered valid. Is a will that I type up and sign in my home office good enough? What if it’s handwritten? Is it valid if written under emotional duress or mental illness? These questions commonly arise in estate administration and planning. They’re also questions that have yet to be answered in the case of the late painter Thomas Kinkade, whose handwritten wills have provoked a bitter dispute among his loved ones.

The 54-year-old painter was found dead in his home by his girlfriend in early April. An autopsy determined he’d consumed a lethal level of alcohol, a sad but unsurprising end to a life plagued by alcoholism in the two years since he’d separated from his wife, according to the painter’s brother.

Kinkade left behind two handwritten wills, one dated in November that said he would leave his estate and $10 million in cash to his 48-year-old girlfriend, whom he met six months after separating from his wife. The second letter, written about a month later, is even harder to decipher than the first. It leaves his home to his girlfriend and requests that $10 million should be used to establish a public museum at the house featuring his artwork and that of other famous artists.

Although the first letter states that he was “of sound mind and body,” the shaky handwriting of both letters has cast many doubts on his mental state, particularly among his family members. A judge is set to determine the validity of the wills next month. Whether the case is handled in open court or private arbitration, it could be up to the late painter’s wife of 30 years to prove he was too impaired by alcohol to capably write a will.

The state of California, where Kinkade lived and died, does allow handwritten wills even if they’re not notarized, as long as they’re authentic, the writer had “capacity” and was not “unduly influenced.” That determination may be up to a handwriting expert who can analyze his state of mind at the time they were written.

The validity of Kinkade’s handwritten will has yet to be determined. But for most people, the best option is to get the help of a wills attorney to eliminate the guesswork and ensure that your wishes are clearly spelled out and properly administered.

Source: San Jose Mercury News, “Painter Thomas Kinkade’s estate battle centers on validity of handwritten wills,” Julia Prodis Sulek, June 19, 2012

Categories: Estate Administration