[author: Josh Crank]
A contentious dispute over the estate of deceased painter Thomas Kinkade is unfolding in California, and the key pieces of evidence are two barely legible, handwritten wills that Kinkade allegedly wrote in the months before his death.
Kinkade, known as the “Painter of Light” and famous for his serene landscapes, was estranged from his wife Nanette for two years when he died. Shortly after the separation, he began dating Amy Pinto-Walsh, who moved into his Monte Sereno mansion. After his death, Pinto-Walsh produced the two handwritten wills which appear to give her control over the mansion, Kinkade’s art collection and $10 million to establish a museum at the site.
The Kinkade family has a formal will that predates the handwritten wills and identifies the executors of his estate as Nanette Kinkade and Windermere Holding Company, which operates Kinkade’s art galleries. Court documents filed by the estate depict Pinto-Walsh as a gold-digger, alleging that she took advantage of Kinkade as he struggled with the alcoholism that eventually contributed to his death.
A Tragic End
Thomas and Nanette shared nearly three decades of marriage and raised four daughters together as they built a multi-million dollar art empire. But in 2010, their marital problems became apparent when Nanette vacated their home and officially filed separation papers. Thomas, who had a history of alcohol abuse, began drinking more heavily as his marriage fell apart.
Six months after the separation, Thomas began a romance with Pinto-Walsh. He offered her a job managing special projects for his company, but according to Pinto-Walsh’s attorneys, Nanette blocked the job offer.
On April 6, Pinto-Walsh found Thomas Kinkade unresponsive in his bed and dialed 911, but paramedics were unable to revive him. An autopsy revealed that he died of an accidental overdose of alcohol and valium.
Pinto-Walsh says that Kinkade became focused on his legacy in the months leading up to his death, prompting him to write the two wills at the center of the dispute.
The first will, dated Nov. 18, 2011, says, “I, Thomas Kinkade, being of sound mind and body do hereby bequeath to Amy Pinto Walsh $10,000,000 in cash from my corporate policy and I give her the house at 16324 and 16342 Ridgecrest Avenue for her security.”
The second, dated Dec. 11, 2011, is more detailed. It states, “I, Thomas Kinkade, hereby bequeath my house at 16342 Ridgecrest Avenue, Monte Sereno, CA to Amy Pinto in the event of my death. I also give the sum of $10,000,000 to Amy Pinto to be used for the establishment of the Thomas Kinkade Museum at 16324 Ridgecrest Ave., Monte Sereno, CA for the public in perpetuity of original art. This Statement is null and void if my relationship with Ms. Pinto ends as is defined by me in a future letter.”
The nearly illegible scrawl in which the wills are written is particularly noteworthy in light of Kinkade’s alcoholism. The San Jose Mercury News quoted handwriting expert Bart Baggett as saying that he thought the person who wrote the wills “had Parkinson’s or was three sheets to the wind.”
Whether or not Kinkade was drunk when he wrote the wills is significant because California recognizes handwritten wills as legally valid, but only if the writer has the “capacity” to make such a declaration.
Question of Capacity
Handwritten wills, also called holographic wills, are legally valid in most states. In California, holographic wills must be signed and written entirely in the testator’s own handwriting.
Cloyd E. Havens II
“A holographic will is not like a second class will,” said Cloyd E. Havens II, an estate attorney in Glendora, California. “In situations where a holographic will is dated later than a formal will, the holographic will is valid.”
And even if Kinkade’s insobriety puts his capacity in question, Pinto-Walsh’s attorney Douglas Dal Cielo is confident that California case law will back up his client’s estate claim. “Alcoholics have mental capacity and the fact that they write a document, whether they’re under the influence or not, case law is clear that people who have substance abuse problems and issues (also) have capacity,” he said.
Havens agrees that Pinto-Walsh has reason to be confident. “In California, capacity is presumed,” he said. “Anyone who wants to challenge a testator’s capacity must prove their case to a ‘clear and convincing standard.’ That’s a relatively high standard, but not insurmountable.
“So she’s starting off in the lead, because all of the presumptions are in her favor. The handwritten wills are presumed to be valid and [Kinkade] is presumed to have had capacity. And the fact that there are two wills acts heavily in her favor; that shows that this was not done in a solitary fit of drunkenness and forgotten about.”
Explore Lawyers.com to learn more about wills and probate law, or find a qualified attorney near you.