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Another Pop Singer’s Estate Battle, This Time with a Twist

Wills-trust-estates-bank-beneficiary-trust-trusteesWay back in 1957, a trio of rock legends died in a plane crash. That night, Bobby Vee took the stage in their place and became a teen idol with a long string of squeaky clean rock ‘n roll hits.

The children of singer Bobby Vee, whose real name was Robert Velline, are engaged in a court battle over the production of a play about his life, "Teen Idol: The Bobby Vee Story," revenues from the play, and his estate. Bobby Vee died in October 2016 from Alzheimer’s disease, the same month that the play opened.

As the Grand Forks Herald reports in “Bobby Vee's children argue over his estate in court,” the production and its revenues are the subject of a petition recently filed in Stearns County District (MN) Court by two of Vee's children, Robert and Jennifer Velline. They say that their siblings, Thomas and Jeffrey Velline, mishandled estate money for their own personal benefit and for the benefit of Rockhouse Production, a recording studio that Vee and his wife started in the 1980s. Jeffrey and Thomas started managing Rockhouse in 2000, after touring with their father since 1994.

The court petition states that Jennifer and Robert are requesting sustained damages in excess of $50,000 from their brothers for the theatrical production. They objected to the play along with their mother, who was only willing to approve of the play, if all four children consented. Karen, Robert, and Jennifer opposed the play because of its content, the unfavorable provisions dealing with division of revenues and the allocation of subsidiary rights, along with several other reasons.

In late 2014, Robert and Jennifer were told by the theater that the play was moving ahead because Jeffrey claimed he had the authority to contract with the theater as Vee's attorney, despite objections from the other family members. Karen decided that all of her husband's business assets, memorabilia, and collectibles should be put into a family trust, which was done the same day in 2015 when she named Jennifer as Vee's guardian and conservator of his estate.

Weeks later, Karen voiced her opposition to the play and asked that Jeffrey be removed as Vee's attorney. She died two weeks later and soon thereafter Robert and Jennifer discovered a first reading of the play was set for January 2016. Revenues were to be divided between the playwright, the theater, and Rockhouse. An attorney representing Vee and Karen Velline told the children that the intent in creating the trust was to benefit the children and grandchildren, not Rockhouse.

The siblings are equal beneficiaries of Vee's estate and trustees of the trust. However, the claim alleges that Jeffrey and Thomas diverted trust assets and interests for their own personal benefit and for the benefit of Rockhouse in contracting with the theater. A final contract of the play was never given to the brothers, even after several requests, as well as an accounting of the revenues from the performances.

Settling this matter is likely to take a long while, since the case is not at all straight-forward. Two siblings, Jennifer and Robert, want the court to order two other siblings, Jeffrey and Thomas, to provide financial data for all revenues generated from the play and during the time that Jeffrey served as the attorney. They also want Jeffrey and Thomas relieved of their roles as co-trustees and accuse the brothers of taking memorabilia that belonged to the trust to promote the recording studio.

In response, Jeffrey and Thomas claim that Bobby Vee’s wife and their mother tried to change Vee’s mind about certain estate plans and that she did not have any standing to influence the production of the play in any way. Jeffrey and Thomas are asking the court to dismiss Jennifer and Robert’s petition.

Whichever duo wins in court, the family loses and it is a shame. Four children battling against each other adds a sad final note to a legendary musical career.

Reference: Grand Forks Herald (February 5, 2017) “Bobby Vee's children argue over his estate in court”

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