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Robbie Robertson The Band Barry King/WireImage/Getty Images
Robbie Robertson in 2005.

Robbie Robertson’s Children Accuse Widow of Financial Elder Abuse

The late musician's Beverly Hills home is at the center of the dispute.

If the lawsuit filed by the children of late musician Robbie Robertson, guitarist of the Band, sounds like a broken record, it’s because we unfortunately hear about this scenario all too often. Robertson’s children are accusing his widow, Jane Zuccarini, of fraud and financial elder abuse, claiming she took advantage of an ill and vulnerable Robertson “to enrich herself to the detriment of Robertson’s children.”

According to court documents, three years after they started dating, Zuccarini allegedly convinced Robertson to sell his own house to purchase a $6 million Beverly Hills home together, to be owned equally. The complaint, however, alleges that Robertson paid the $1.8 million down payment in full. The complaint further alleges that Zuccarini planned a secret wedding in March 2023, a few months before Robertson passed away, and that Robertson’s family only found out about it hours after it happened after showing up for what they thought was an anniversary party. Zuccarini allegedly also had Robertson sign a prenup and an amended Tenant in Common agreement before the wedding prepared by her attorneys that stated if one of them died, the estate of the deceased would continue to pay one-half of the mortgage. 

Taken Advantage Of

According to Robertson’s children, all of this went on while Robertson was ill—he was battling cancer, having undergone surgery and chemotherapy, and was on prescription medications, including opioids, THC and antipsychotics. They argue that, as a result, Robertson didn’t have the proper mental capacity to read and understand the documents he signed. The children also claim that their father reassured them after the wedding that nothing in his estate had changed and that they would “have the option to either buy the Beverly Hills house from Zuccarini, sell his interest to her, or sell it with her and split the proceeds.”

Fast forward a few weeks after Robertson’s death, Zuccarini allegedly bragged to Robertson’s two daughters, via text and in person, that had Robertson understood what he was signing, he would have never agreed to it. She also informed them that, under the amended Tenant in Common agreement, she’s entitled to live at the house until her death and that Robertson’s estate and trust are required to cover her living expenses at the Beverly Hills home, including mortgage payments, pool maintenance, cable bills, etc., which would basically drain the children’s entire inheritance. Her lawyers also fired back, stating that if Zuccarini doesn’t get what she wants, they’ll default back to an earlier agreement and that Zuccarini would be “an omitted spouse entitled to a one-third share of Robertson’s entire estate.”

Financial Elder Abuse, Undue Influence and Incapacity

The lawsuit asks that the amended agreement be canceled and seeks damages relating to the elder abuse claims and interference with inheritance.

According to Jennifer Campbell, partner at Karlin & Peebles in Los Angeles, it’s not unusual for a petition challenging an estate plan to consist of financial elder abuse, undue influence and incapacity claims. To prevail on these claims, “the burden of proof is carried by the plaintiff, and the level of certainty to which the plaintiff must prove the plaintiff’s case depends on the type of claims the plaintiff is making,” said Campbell.

“For example, if the challenge to the decedent’s estate planning documents is based on a claim of the decedent’s incapacity, then the plaintiff must submit evidence to the court that demonstrates by a preponderance of the evidence that the decedent lacked the necessary capacity to sign the decedent’s estate planning documents,” Campbell explains. This can be more challenging than meets the eye, as you need to overcome the presumption that the decedent had capacity when the documents were signed. Furthermore, Campbell adds that merely having a diagnosis of dementia or chronic pain is not sufficient to prove incapacity.

“Although evidence of what other activities the decedent engaged in (or didn’t engage in) at the time the challenged estate planning documents were signed is helpful, these cases often come down to a battle of the geriatric psychiatrists, who are the experts testifying on the decedent’s capacity,” she concluded.

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