Liz Bozek first blogged about the tragedy of Tom Petty’s sudden death and the musical legacy that he left behind, commenting that “a life unexpectedly cut short can nevertheless be celebrated because of the rich legacy left behind.” Unfortunately, any hopes of a long-term celebration by his family were dashed when Tom’s daughters, Annakim and Adria, sued Tom’s widow and their step-mother, Dana York Petty, for control of his music catalogue plus $5 million in damages.
According to an article in Forbes magazine by Russ Espinoza, Dana was named the sole trustee of a trust established by Tom, the terms of which provided for “equal participation” from his daughters as to how the music catalogue was to be managed. The daughters contend that such language means that they, as a pair, should have control over the catalogue by effectively having two-thirds of the votes with respect to decisions related to it. Dana contends that she has sole authority to manage the estate, including the music catalogue, by virtue of her position as sole named trustee.
One can only speculate as to what Tom actually intended in arranging his affairs in this manner. Did he mean that his daughters should simply be consulted? Was he attempting to effectively give the daughters a true equal say, thereby partially usurping the role of the trustee? Was it motivated by an attempt on the part of Tom to compel his children and their step-mother to remain personally connected after his death? Was giving the daughters “equal participation” merely a way to prevent them from feeling “left out of his affairs” after his death?
The one thing we can say with certainty is that the drafting is ambiguous. A properly drafted document will clearly delineate the manner in which decisions are to be made and by whom. But in advising a client as to how to create an effective decision-making structure, one must be mindful of altered family dynamics that could easily come about after, particularly the client’s death, and create a structure that is robust enough to endure changing family dynamics.
I think it is fair to say that Tom was hoping for a better musical legacy than his widow and children behaving like his well-known song lyrics:
“Well I won’t back down
No I won’t back down
You could stand me up at the gates of Hell
But I won’t back down.”
 Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/russespinoza/2019/05/16/tom-pettys-daughters-sue-artists-widow-for-control-of-estate-and-damages/#31079dd32447