SAN JOSE — If only Thomas Kinkade’s own home in Monte Sereno were as tranquil and idyllic as the storybook cottages he painted. Instead, the late artist’s stately mansion with the curving driveway and leafy landscape has become a brutal battleground over his fortune between his widow and girlfriend who still lives there.
Security guards have been stationed inside the gates day and night to make sure the girlfriend, Amy Pinto, doesn’t steal anything.
Pinto — who dated Kinkade for 18 months before he died in April of alcoholism — has refused to move out, ignored invoices to pay $12,500 a month in rent and is “holding hostage this residence,” Daniel Casas, a lawyer for Nanette Kinkade, said after a court hearing Monday in San Jose about the dispute that is tarnishing Kinkade’s legacy as the “Painter of Light.”
Judge Thomas Cain on Monday set a Sept. 17 court date to give Pinto time to “consider her options” of whether to stay or go and suggested that she “make sure everything stays where it is until the outcome of these proceedings.”
Even though she hasn’t worked since she began dating Kinkade, Pinto apparently has resources to pay rent on the house valued at some $7 million. Casas says both before and after Kinkade’s death, she received roughly $1 million from his accounts, although he didn’t make clear how.
“She’s already received a substantial, substantial sum of money that arose from her relationship with Thomas Kinkade,” Casas said, adding that she might have to pay it back if she loses her case.
Pinto — whom the Kinkade estate refers to as Pinto-Walsh, her name from a previous marriage — appeared in court Monday, clutching a purse with a silk-screened image of one of Kinkade’s paintings, “Victorian Light,” depicting a seaside light house and Victorian cottage. Although Pinto is subjected to a confidentiality agreement and won’t speak publicly, she has said in a court declaration that she and Kinkade were “deeply in love” and were planning to marry in Fiji after his divorce was final. They had even shopped for an engagement ring.
The legal fight over Kinkade’s multimillion dollar fortune, which lawyers have valued at at least $100 million, has made headlines across the country ever since Pinto, 48, produced two handwritten wills she claims were written by Kinkade, 54, several months before he died. Although they are written in such sloppy cursive they can barely be deciphered, the notes appear to leave her his house, his art studio next door and $10 million to establish a public museum of his original artwork on the property. Pinto’s lawyers have interpreted this to mean that Kinkade also bequeathed some $66 million worth of his work to fill the museum.
Lawyers for Kinkade’s widow say if Kinkade wrote them, he clearly wasn’t of sound mind and body and that Pinto unduly influenced him, dictating the contents of the will to serve her own greedy purposes.
Nanette Kinkade, who separated from Kinkade in 2010 but never finalized a divorce, was a no-show at Monday’s hearing. But her lawyer said the battle over the estate and especially the home where she raised her children has been “very emotional.”
“It’s being taken over by a woman who had a year-and-a-half relationship with her husband at most,” Casas said. “It she moved out, it would be a lot easier.”
As part of the marriage separation agreement in 2010, however, Nanette Kinkade agreed that her husband should have full ownership of the Monte Sereno house. She and her daughters moved to a smaller home in Los Gatos.
While Pinto is “holed up” in the residence, Casas said, the grown daughters don’t have access to some of their belongings still in the house, much less any of their father’s original paintings that hang on the walls.
But lawyers for Pinto say she is only carrying out the wishes of Kinkade and wants the money and art to establish the museum. She isn’t asking for the entire estate, her lawyers say, just what would have been Kinkade’s half. The other half would go to his wife and children.
One of Pinto’s lawyers, Douglas Dal Cielo, said the “evidence is overwhelming” that the wills are valid, even though the writing appears shaky.
Judge Cain declined to immediately rule on Dal Cielo request to assign a neutral third-party to administer the estate during the litigation — including paying the bills and conducting an inventory of Kinkade’s original artwork.
Lawyers for the estate have refused to conduct any inventory of the originals, including what is said to be thousands of paintings stored in a Morgan Hill vault and perhaps less than 100 works in progress at the studio next to his home.
Casas said it could be upward of a year before the court hears arguments over the validity of the handwritten wills. “Most civil cases settle,” Casas said. “It doesn’t mean this one will.”
Thomas Kinkade’s girlfriend ‘holding hostage’ the artist’s Monte Sereno mansion, attorneys allege
Julia Prodis Sulek
August 13, 2012
Legal tussle over Thomas Kinkade’s multimillion-dollar estate heads to court Monday
Julia Prodis Sulek
August 13, 2012
A tug-of-war between the widow and the girlfriend of the late artist Thomas Kinkade heads back to court Monday, with each woman claiming that she should be in control of the multimillion dollar estate.
In the meantime, legal posturing continues over the validity of two barely legible handwritten wills that Amy Pinto-Walsh claims Kinkade wrote, leaving her his Monte Sereno mansion named Ivy Gate and $10 million to establish a museum of his artwork in the studio next door.
Lawyers for Nanette Kinkade, the artist’s wife of 30 years and mother of his four grown daughters, filed documents Friday contesting those wills. They include Kinkade’s original will and three “codicils,” or amendments to the will he made through 2007 — all relatively minor changes and none of them in handwriting so shaky they needed a typed translation to decipher.
All the while, Pinto-Walsh “refuses to move” out of the home, even though the estate continues to pay the mortgage and send her monthly bills for rent and maintenance, according to lawyers for the estate.
Kinkade, 54, died of lethal levels of alcohol and Valium on April 6 at the Monte Sereno home he shared with Pinto-Walsh. His descent into alcoholism and estrangement from his wife and daughters showed a dark and sad side to the famous artist, who made his fortune as the “Painter of Light,” selling copies of his paintings that depicted pastoral images, candlelit cottages and Christian symbols.
The court documents claim that Pinto-Walsh, 48, used her feminine wiles to take advantage of Kinkade, who was in the throes of alcoholism at the time he allegedly wrote the wills in November and December last year. Pinto-Walsh had been dating Kinkade for 18 months, and living with him at the Monte Sereno home for about a year, when he died. At the time, Kinkade had been separated from his wife for two years, but not divorced.
Pinto-Walsh “was able to and did control and influence the mind and actions of the Decedent to such an extent that Decedent did whatever Respondent instructed him to do,” according to the documents filed Friday. “Taking advantage of this trust and confidence, Respondent suggested and dictated the contents of the Documents and caused Decedent to draft and execute the Documents.”
The writing on the wills appeared so shaky that one handwriting expert who briefly reviewed them told this newspaper that the author “either had Parkinson’s disease or was three sheets to the wind.”
Lawyers for Pinto-Walsh say that those wills show the true wishes of the late artist, who had traveled with Pinto-Walsh to visit other museums to get ideas about how he wanted his own. They also contend that the Kinkades had already divided some of their assets when they separated in 2010, giving the artist full ownership of the Monte Sereno home. Pinto-Walsh believes the handwritten wills not only give her ownership of the house, studio and $10 million, but that they also grant her the right to control $66 million of Kinkade’s fortune. That amount represents about half the artist’s worth, her lawyer says. The other half would go to Nanette Kinkade as her part of the community property.
In court documents filed earlier this summer, Pinto-Walsh claimed that while she and the artist had their problems, they planned to marry in Fiji as soon as Kinkade’s divorce was final.
“Amy and Thomas were deeply in love,” the documents said. “They both believed that fate brought them together to help each other through the difficult times they both encountered as well as to share their dreams of a life together.”
A trial over the authenticity of the wills likely won’t start for another six months or a year. In Monday’s hearing, arguments will center on who has authority to manage the estate — the widow, the girlfriend, or perhaps a neutral third party.
“We believe that Amy Pinto should be the administrator, but in the alternative we want a neutral because we don’t want Nanette Kinkade or anyone else associated with the opposition to be in control of the estate while the litigation is pending,” said Douglas Dal Cielo, a San Jose lawyer representing Pinto-Walsh.
In the meantime, Pinto-Walsh continues to live in the Monte Sereno home on Ridgecrest Avenue, valued at more than $7 million, according to documents filed by the estate.
“The owners deliver monthly invoices for rent and property maintenance, and will continue to do so as long as Ms. Walsh refuses to move from the residence,” Nanette Kinkade’s lawyer Daniel Casas said in an emailed response to questions posed by this newspaper. “I reiterate that her first lawyer told me that he had advised his client to move from the residence shortly after Mr. Kinkade’s death. I believe that was good advice not accepted.”