Creating a thoughtful estate plan takes time and effort. Usually working with a knowledgeable and experienced estate law attorney is the best option for avoiding interfamily squabbles and disputes involving a business or assets. Unfortunately, this has now embroiled the estate of musician Tom Petty, whose widow Dana York Petty and daughters Adria Petty and Annakim Violette are fighting it out in probate court.

Petty, who died of an accidental drug overdose in October of 2017, left his widow as the trustee. However, his two daughters have equal participation in the control of the musician’s substantial catalog. The most recent development is that the daughters and the widow disagree over the estate plan’s language of “equal participation” in how the Petty catalog is to be overseen, with the lucrative promise of unreleased material and deluxe reissues on hold. The wife claims that equal means she has one vote and the two grown daughters share a vote. The daughters argue that the three of them each get one vote, thus giving them majority control.

The widow has filed a petition in probate court asking for the catalog to be handled by a professional manager. She also accused Adria Petty of behaving erratically and being abusive, which makes it difficult to conduct business in an effective way. Both sides have complained of the difficulty of simply determining the content, design and packaging for two posthumous compilations. Dana York Petty also said that it was Adria who prevented the release of a 25th anniversary edition of Wildflowers, which would have included outtakes from those sessions.

For her part, Adria has filed her own petition seeking majority control of the catalog. She also accuses her step-mother of usurping the estate’s assets and the expense of the daughters.

Uncommon business, common problem

These details have come out in such industry outlets as Variety, but control over an estate and business interests is a common area of dispute for families. This involves the issue of control, but unclear language is keeping this estate in the courts. While the daughters say this has nothing to do with their personal relationship with Dana York Petty, it is clear that these matters can quickly spin out of control if the language and intent is not made clear by a knowledgeable estate law attorney.