Well, summertime’s almost here. You know summer’s coming when I start eating ice cream. My favourite flavour is  Ben & Jerry’s “Cherry Garcia”, named after the Grateful Dead’s legendary guitarist and song writer, Jerry Garcia.

Nothing beats eating Cherry Garcia and listening to the mellow licks of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead.

Unfortunately, the administration of Garcia’s estate was far from mellow.

Garcia died On August 9, 1995 at the young age of 53 of a heart attack just as he was almost finished his treatment at a drug rehab centre.

He left a will and an estate that became mired in messy estate litigation. Several lawsuits involving the estate continued on for about 13 years! Unfortunately, Garcia did not seek expert legal advice before making his will.

Jerry’s executor was his third wife , Deborah Koons Garcia.

The estate was worth about $ 15 million and within months of his death, his executor was facing claims estimated at $ 50 million!

One of the largest claims was made by Garcia’s second wife Carolyn Adams who claimed that Garcia had agreed to pay her $ 5million for support at the rate of $ 250,000 per year. She and Garcia made up their own one page separation agreement without legal advice. Garcia signed the agreement approximately 18 months before his death so that he could get a divorce and marry Deborah.

The problem was that the estate did not have that kind of cash to settle with Carolyn. Carolyn took the estate to Court and won. Deborah appealed and the parties eventually settled for about $ 1.2 million.

A claim was also made by one of Garcia’s daughters Keelan Garcia who felt she wasn’t left enough in the will.  She settled with the estate in 2008 for undisclosed cash and an interest in the Cherry Garcia trademark.

One of the most interesting claims involved Garcia’s guitar maker Doug Erwin. He was the only non- family member named in the will. Garcia left his four guitars to him. However, Garcia’s band siblings in the Grateful Dead claimed that the guitars belonged to the band and not to Garcia personally ( ed. I knew I could make this into a sibling estate dispute). Erwin sued and settled for two of the guitars. At auction, the guitars fetched almost $ 1.8 million!  Erwin then tried to get the estate to pay the taxes arising from the sale. He was unsuccessful in getting reimbursed for the taxes. In Canada, the estate would have had a tax liability based on the increased value of the guitars .

Deborah Koons Garcia turned out to be a pretty astute executor . She was able to pare down $ 50 million dollars of claims to $700,000 according to the 2003 documentary  “Can’t Take It With You.”( see video link below)

The estate is now generating millions in royalties from sales of ice cream, ties and other merchandise- way more than the money generated by the music.

The Jerry Garcia estate fights underscore the need to get professional advice when making your estate plan. With a proper estate plan and expert advice, many of the expensive and protracted legal fights could have been avoided.

To learn more about the Jerry Garcia estate disputes check out this video: