During the 1980s I attended college and law school at the University of Florida in Gainesville, which also happens to be the hometown of rock and roll legend, Tom Petty.

I was not a big Petty fan before attending UF. You couldn’t help it, however, from becoming a fan while living in Gainesville during the height of his popularity. Over time his music grew on me. He was the hometown hero who busted it “Into the Great Wide Open.”

As an undergrad, one Thursday night I happened to take a date to Rickenbacker’s Bar in downtown Gainesville, when Petty, at the height of his career when he normally played to packed stadiums, strolled in with an acoustic guitar and a friend.

He proceeded to play two sets to the uncrowded room, (this was before cell phones which would have resulted in an immediate madhouse), allowing me to enjoy a personal concert from one of the biggest musical names at the time. He sang some songs and chatted with the 20 or so people in the bar about his music.

It was a great experience, and I became a much bigger fan.

Petty’s “Last Dance with Mary Jane” happened from an accidental drug overdose in October of 2017. Since that time, his widow, Dona York Petty, and his two daughters Adria Robin Petty and Annakim Violette, both from a prior marriage, have been trying to “Break Down” one another over his estimated $95 million estate.

The disagreement between step-mother and step-daughters boiled over in lawsuits, each vying for control over Petty’s intellectual property rights, including marketing rights to his name and image, royalties and artistic creations.

Dana chides Adria for wanting to authorize Petty’s likeness to promote products like salad dressing, a la Paul Newman. She accuses her step-daughters of locking her out of the management of the intellectual property rights, claiming that Petty’s trust directs those rights to be contributed to an LLC, which she wants managed professionally.

Adria and Annakim have said “Don’t Do Me Like That” to Dana over these same issues, claiming that Petty’s trust directs the intellectual property rights to be maintained in an LLC with all three having equal membership interests, which would create a situation where the step-daughters could outvote their step-mother at any time.

The two sides “Won’t Back Down.”  It looks like all of the parties will be “Free Fallin’ ”  for quite some time until the legal process works all of this out. I’m sure that either side would like to be “Runnin Down a Dream” and get their own way, but that doesn’t look likely anytime in the near future.

The Tom Petty saga speaks to many universal estate planning truths. Economically tying a step-parent to step-children can be a recipe for disaster, especially when there’s not an impartial trustee named to ensure that your dispositive intent is carried out the way that you would like.

Your trustee decides how the trust assets are invested and distributed. In Tom Petty’s case, an impartial LLC manager could decide how to optimize the intellectual property rights.

Obviously Petty wanted to take care of all his “American Girls.” It appears that his estate had more than enough assets and revenue to do so. Instead his family turned into “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.”

Neither his wife nor his daughters will have to “Live Like a Refugee.” But when the glue that holds the family relationship is no longer there, it comes down to money and control

I’m sure if he were alive today, he’d tell his wife and his daughters “You Wreck Me,” and “It’s Time to Move On,” to “The Best of Everything.”

But Tom’s not with us anymore.

It doesn’t take millions to put your family in a similar situation. In fact, the less money and assets available makes the investments and distribution allocation decisions that much more important and vital to each party’s interest.

If you have a similar situation, make sure that you think through the issues, so everyone will “Feel a Whole Lot Better.”

© 2019 Craig R. Hersch. Originally published in the Sanibel Island Sun.