Legacy University - Your Personal Resource for Estate Planning 101

Teddy Pendergrass and the Avoidable Will Dispute

Teddy Pendergrass and the Avoidable Will Dispute December 19, 2013 —

According to Philly.com, LaDonna Pendergrass Hollerway, one of the daughters of the late great Teddy Pendergrass, is reported as having said regarding Joan Pendergrass, the singer’s second wife, that: “She was married to my dad for only a year, and she has turned my family upside down,” said Hollerway. The Pendergrass family is now several years into a bitter dispute between the children and the second wife of Teddy Pendergrass.

The Pendergrass saga is no different than disputes occurring every day by otherwise typical families later influenced by individuals or circumstances which impact the family dynamic. This type of dispute is particularly not surprising given the short duration of a late-in-life event.

via Teddy Pendergrass widow and son at war over wills – Philly.com.
updated news: http://www.timesherald.com/general-news/20131120/son-and-second-wife-of-singer-teddy-pendergrass-battle-in-court-over-late-singers-estate

The Will Dispute Mess

The dispute manifests itself in any one of a number of forms.  In the case of the Pendergrass dispute, it appears that allegations seem to involve a wide variety of allegations, including multiple disputing wills, unclear intent of the deceased and factual disputes as to whether the will was or could have been signed in the manner indicated by the will.

Once the court begins to accept arguments as to the testator’s (the person who makes the will) intent, it typically means that the validity of the language of the will is no longer being held as sacred. The court is now determining whether to reconstruct an outcome that the court determines would have represented the wishes of the deceased – and if that cannot be done, is likely to find other ways to provide a distribution of assets. In other words, the court will decide what to do instead of the person having drafted the will.

Aggravating Factors

The Pendergrass dispute appears to have been a powder keg which was ignited well before his passing. While factors might include his disability, actions outside of the home, unclear motives or health issues, and certainly the interaction between his children and second wife, the dispute seemed inevitable absent improved planning on the part of Pendergrass.

Attorneys will typically be attuned to these issues, but they are often unavoidable with clients who act on their own, or who are susceptible to changing minds, conflicting acts, differing conversations and so forth, all of which could easily undermine otherwise careful planning.

Lessons Learned

The Pendergrass dispute should teach us all a number of lessons. Planning should be clear and documents consistent. Use the same people to execute documents, utilizing clear dates and witnesses. It is generally good  practice as well to destroy old documents to help avoid confusion.

If there is a likelihood of a dispute, take measures to ensure that the parties are ill-equipped to raise the aggregating factors. Perhaps include a medical professional as a witness or include an affidavit with the will indicating that the testator is capable of understanding the will and appears to have full capacity to enter into the will.

These are the situations in which lawyers and other professionals do come in handy. It is impossible to know in this case and from this vantage point what could have been avoided, but in retrospect it is clear that all of the participants of this family sure wish that Teddy had done a  a better job with his planning.


This article was provided by Family Archival Solutions, Inc.  The article is not intended to provide legal or other advice and readers are strongly encouraged to seek professional guidance in connection with estate planning and preparation.  Family Archival Solutions offers a wide range of family preparation services. Copyright © 2013 www.familyarchivalsolutions.com. All rights reserved.