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The Pendergrass Estate and Control of a Legacy

The Times Standard reported on another high-profile estate battle brewing that touches on many common themes, including a divided family and conflicting claims about last wishes.

Legendary R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass is probably best known for his smash hit “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.” Pendergrass dealt with various challenges throughout his life, including a serious car accident in 1982 that left him a quadriplegic. The accident required him to have around-the-clock care, but he survived and thrived until his death in early 2010.

Family Battle
Unfortunately, there was much discord in the family regarding the distribution of his assets and control of his legacy. The main dispute–as is so often the case–seems to be between Pendergrass’s second wife (whom he married in 2008) and the adult children from his first marriage. From the available reports, it seems that only very basic planning was complete, without use of trusts, leaving the situation open for dispute.

According to court records, the singer’s adult son claims that a 2009 Will names the son as executor and beneficiary of his father’s estate. The singer’s wife contests the validity of the Will. At one point the wife argued that she had possession of a “codocil” or addition to the Will which revealed different terms than those in the 2009 original. It is unclear if she is still making that claim.

Regardless, a civil trial in the matter is underway now, and it seems that the wife is contesting the validity of the 2009 Will entirely. One interesting claim suggests that the singer was physically not able to sign the legal document as claimed. A long-time nurse of the man explained last week at trial that the singer could not hold anything himself after the accident and required aid for even the most basic tasks. She testified that she did not believe his motor skills allowed him to sign his name or make initials on paper. In addition, there was confusion about how the singer could have left the home at the time that the Will was supposedly signed without caregivers knowing about it.

Both sides concede that they are concerned about the long-term legacy of the singer. Beyond the physical assets and bank accounts, control of an estate also includes the ability to dictate how the singer’s legacy is handled, including future use and licensing of the famous name.

It is impossible to predict how a court will rule in this case. Any time an estate battle goes to trial, there are unknowns which can sway the matter either way. That is why everything should be done ahead of time to avoid legal disputes, dispensing with the matter efficiently and quickly. An estate planning attorney can help ensure you have details in place to avoid conflict.

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