Pendergrass feud over will continues

Singer Teddy Pendergrass in 1993. A dispute rages over conflicting wills, despite a much-diminished estate. (Source: Carol Friedman)
Singer Teddy Pendergrass in 1993. A dispute rages over conflicting wills, despite a much-diminished estate. (Source: Carol Friedman)
Posted: January 15, 2014

Joan Pendergrass, widow of the famed musician Teddy Pendergrass, sat on the witness stand in Montgomery Court Court on Monday and wiped tears from the corners of her eyes.

It wasn't so much the questions that Theodore "Ted" Pendergrass II's attorney was asking as he tried to poke holes in her story.

It was the hearing's timing.

"Do you know what today is?" she asked Timothy Holman, attorney for her late husband's son.

Holman seemed to know. Pendergrass died on Jan. 13, 2010 - four years before, to the day.

On Monday, Montgomery County Court Judge Stanley Ott continued the legal tussle over dueling wills that claim to give either the son or the widow control over Pendergrass' estate.

The hearing was one more session in years of legal proceedings over the wills.

The fight is not aimed at controlling enormous bank accounts. The lead singer for Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, who became a successful solo artist, was nearly a pauper when he died in 2010 after complications from treatment for colon cancer. Those problems were on top of the paralysis he suffered in a 1982 vehicle accident.

"This is really over control of his legacy," said Don Foster, Joan Pendergrass' attorney. He said there had been vague discussions with his client about a movie or television show being made about her husband.

The chronology of the case is central to who will get to make such decisions and control any money generated by them.

After Teddy Pendergrass, who lived in Penn Valley, died at Bryn Mawr Hospital, a will dated March 2009 was submitted to the court. That will left most of the estate to Joan Pendergrass, the singer's second wife, whom he had married in 2008. A smaller sum was to go to a charity the musician ran, and a painting of Pendergrass was to go to the younger Pendergrass.

In May, the younger Pendergrass submitted a will that his father supposedly signed in May 2009 and thus superseded the will favoring Joan Pendergrass. It left the estate to him. That could have been the end of the court fight, except Joan Pendergrass said she found a codicil to the March will, dated October 2009, that left everything to her.

Because that codicil was signed not by Pendergrass but by Joan Pendergrass as "attorney of fact" for her husband, Ott ruled it invalid. Superior Court agreed. So the May will is in effect.

And that could have been the end of the battle, except that Joan Pendergrass then claimed that the May will was a fraud, and the court decided to hear her evidence. That came Monday.

Joan Pendergrass first took the stand in December, testifying that the October addition to the May will followed a decision by Teddy Pendergrass to shun his family and leave everything to her. On Monday, Holman cross-examined her.

Holman asked about her earlier testimony, pointing out conflicting information on where she was on certain dates and where Teddy Pendergrass was, and questioning her contention that her husband was physically incapable of signing his name on the later will.

Holman also was skeptical of how much time Joan Pendergrass, whom he called "a weekend wife," spent with her husband and how much she was aware of his wishes, considering she worked in Boston and had a home there.

At the end of the hearing, Holman told Ott he was not trying to prove whether Joan and Teddy Pendergrass loved each other. "This case is about whether a document was signed," he said.

Foster said his side had shown that Teddy Pendergrass, because of his impaired condition, could not have signed the May will.

"We're happy with the result," Foster said of Ott's ruling that the proceedings would continue.

The case is to continue March 17.



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