Michael Nesmith portrait

There was more than one will written by musician and music video pioneer Michael Nesmith, who came to fame in the 1960s as one of The Monkees rock group and died at his Carmel Valley home on Dec. 10, 2021. One handwritten will from 2014 was submitted to Monterey County Superior Court in December. There's evidence of at least one other handwritten will from an earlier time. And now Nesmith's four adult children are contending that there exists a true will created in 1994.

One problem: They don't have a copy of the 1994 will yet, according to court documents filed on March 17. 

"Objectors believe that the document is a codicil to the decedent's will, which he executed in 1994," the objection states. (A codicil is a legal term for an addition or amendment to, or a revocation of, a previous will.) They've sent subpoenas to the estate planning attorneys who crafted the 1994 will, requesting the attorneys to produce it.

The children are making the case that since Nesmith's one-page, handwritten will, dated July 8, 2014, doesn't state that the new will revokes all previous wills, it's not the true will, only an amendment. 

The 2014 will leaves everything Nesmith owns to the Gihon Foundation, which was created in 1977 by his mother Bette Graham, the inventor of Liquid Paper. Nesmith was president of the foundation and his children are currently listed as members of the board. The foundation has been used to support some of Nesmith's projects, including his online virtual performance space Video Ranch 3D, headquartered at his studios in Sand City.

The estate was estimated by be around $3.6 million by Nesmith's business manager and accountant Cynthia Davis, who filed the court papers after his death requesting to be named by the court as the estate's special administrator.

The children contend the estate is actually valued at $1.95 million. They argue Davis incorrectly included in her estimation assets that are part of a trust, also executed in 1994. That trust leaves all furniture, furnishings, personal effects, vehicles and "all other tangible or intangible personal property" to Nesmith's ex-wife, Victoria Kennedy, to whom he was married to at the time of the 1994 will and trust.

Although they said they don't have the 1994 will yet, they did submit as evidence a copy of a  one-page document stating that Kennedy will receive his belongings. It's signed by Nesmith as trustor of the "1994 Presidential Trust," as well as Kennedy, who is named as trustee. 

In their court filing, Nesmith's children asked that Davis be removed as special administrator, stating that she's done a "fine job" in the role. Instead they asked that the man originally named by Nesmith to act as executor, Howard Leitner, take over.

Attorneys for the children, Davis and Leitner called into the Monterey courtroom of Julie Culver this morning to hash out next steps. Culver agreed to Davis remaining as special administrator at least until May 4, when another hearing is scheduled to discuss the 1994 will. Leitner will then take over as executor, Culver ruled. Davis' attorney, Yvonne Ascher, had no objection.

The Nesmith children's attorney, Jonathan Wolf, asked Culver continue the rest of the matter to the May 4 hearing, but Culver had questions. For one thing, Culver wanted to know if the 2014 will submitted was the original or a copy.

Ascher explained that after Nesmith's death, Davis went through his papers and found a file folder labeled "Nesmith Will." In it was an earlier handwritten will on a sheet of binder paper ripped out of a spiral pad. That will had no witness and no executor named.

Also in the folder were two pieces of paper, both dated July 8, 2014, with a witness' signature. Leitner was named as executor. It wasn't clear which one was the original and which one was a copy. Ascher submitted the one she believed was the original.

"There was some question in my mind because it looked so pristine," Culver said.

There was no more discussion about which will was the original. That was left to be sorted out later, along with what Culver referred to as the "lost" 1994 will. The next hearing is set for 9am on May 4.

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