There looks to be an estate conflict brewing between the children of deceased actor and songwriter Alan Thicke and his wife of 12 years, Tanya Callau. Insert your Growing Pains puns here.
Normally when we write about this sort of celebrity estate planning battle, it’s because of a failure in the planning process that is cast in abject relief by hindsight. Often, there simply wasn’t a planning process at all, and we as professionals get to learn or reinforce some valuable lessons, while getting to enjoy some delightful schadenfreude at a celebrity’s expense. This one is different however; even though he died unexpectedly, Alan Thicke looked to have a fairly comprehensive estate plan in place. Less fun for onlookers, maybe, but definitely more professionally interesting.
Alan created the Thicke Living Trust in 1988 for the benefit of his family. Alan and Tonya executed a prenuptial agreement in September 2004 and were married in May 2005.
In a Petition for Instructions filed Tuesday in California Superior Court, Alan’s children, and successor co-trustees of the Thicke Living Trust trust, Brennan and Robin, are seeking direction from the court “to honor the memory of their father, protect his legacy, and prevent his testamentary intentions from being undermined by avarice and overreaching of his third wife, Tanya Callau…”
The petition alleges that, in a letter from her attorney, Tanya demanded a larger portion of Alan’s estate than was allocated to her under the terms of his trust and is denying the validity of the prenuptial agreement. She also allegedly claimed that she was entitled to some form of Marvin rights, generally invoked to protect an unmarried partner in palimony cases, because she sacrificed her own career to support Alan and has “now been severely prejudiced in her career potential by having lived up to her end of the bargain.”
The main point of interest here is the interpretation of the prenuptial agreement, as that is what will determine what of the property in Alan’s estate is considered community — over which Tonya will have certain ownership rights — and what should be considered separate and subject to division under the terms of the trust.
According to Robin and Brennan’s attorney Alex Weingarten, a partner at Venable LLP in Los Angeles, the case is cut and dried. The prenuptial agreement directly addresses the issues Tanya’s raising, and she simply has her hand out because Alan isn’t around anymore to do anything about it.
“The fact of the matter is that Alan had a career, wealth and children well before he ever met her It was important to him to make sure that was protected and that his children were taken care of after his passing. She agreed to that. She signed it, understood it and now she’s refusing to honor it," he said, adding, “It was never an issue before his death.”
However, the petition and Weingarten’s assertions are only half of the story. The contents of the alleged letter that kicked this fight off are unknown beyond what the petition mentions, and unsurprisingly, Tanya’s attorney holds a very different view on both the proceedings and Tanya’s intentions.
According to Adam Streisand, a partner at Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, also in Los Angeles:
“The petition is utter nonsense. Tanya never sought more than what her husband intended,” he told WealthManagement.com. He further claims that Tanya has no intention of trying to invalidate the prenuptial agreement, which he characterizes as “maybe the worst document I’ve ever seen drafted by a lawyer."
“The prenup required Alan to give Tanya 25 percent of the ranch where Tanya and Alan built a beautiful home together. But the trust didn’t give her any part of it and requires her to pay 100 percent of the cost… We also have to sort out what assets are community and what are separate, since the prenup contemplates that there will be community property. It’s a mess,” Streisand says.
Streisand also challenges the petition’s claims about Tanya’s threats to go to the media.
“Tanya did not threaten to go to the press," he said. "To the contrary, she said a court battle would attract the tabloid media, which she did not want, and so she encouraged everyone to get together for a family mediation to figure it all out. They refused. Repeatedly.”
According to Weingarten, “We’ve been doing everything we can to try and resolve [this] since before Alan’s death, but it takes two to tango.”
Regardless of who’s trying harder to resolve the issue, there’s a clear disconnect between the two sides, which suggests this could get worse before it gets better.