San Jose Mercury News , Published August 13 2012
Kinkade’s girlfriend ‘holding hostage’ the artist’s mansion, attorneys allegeSAN JOSE, Calif. — If only Thomas Kinkade’s own home in Monte Sereno, Calif., 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 lighthouse and Victorian cottage. Although Pinto is subject 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.
Cain declined to immediately rule on Dal Cielo’s 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.”