In April 2012, renowned artist Thomas Kinkade passed away at the age of 54. On July 2, 2012, Mr. Kinkade’s girlfriend, Amy Pinto-Walsh, filed a lawsuit seeking to probate some handwritten notes allegedly authored by Mr. Kinkade that would give Ms. Pinto-Walsh his mansion and another $10 million to start a museum to exhibit his paintings.
Mr. Kinkade’s wife of 30 years, Nanette Kinkade, disputes Ms. Pinto-Walsh’s claims and has filed court papers seeking control over Mr. Kinkade’s estate. Mr. and Mrs. Kinkade separated 2 years ago but their divorce was not finalized at the time of Mr. Kinkade’s passing.
The Kinkade case raises several interesting legal issues. One issue involves those handwritten notes and whether they can be probated as holographic Wills. Most states including New Jersey (and likely California, where the Kinkade case is being heard) have estate laws which permit handwritten notes to be admitted as holographic Wills or codicils if they meet certain requirements. For example, the party who seeks to probate the handwritten notes must show that the notes were written by the decedent.
In New Jersey, handwritten notes must be approved for probate by the Probate Court, while most Wills drafted by lawyers and executed in the presence of witnesses and a notary need not require court approval to be probated but instead may be probated at the county Surrogate’s Office.