Did Tammy Wynette Want To Disinherit Her Children?
Virginia Wynette Pugh, who later became known as Tammy Wynette, was born in Mississippi on May 5, 1942 to a family of cotton farmers. Tammy’s father died when Tammy was just an infant. As Tammy grew up, she taught herself to play a variety of musical instruments that were left to her by her father.
As a teenager, Tammy clashed with her mother. After one particularly bad incident, Tammy decided she needed to get out of the house and married her first husband, Euple Byrd a month before graduating high school. They had three children. Seven years later the marriage later fell apart and Tammy moved with her three daughters to Nashville. Tammy had always dreamed of becoming a country star.
In 1966 Tammy auditioned for multiple record labels, without success. Tammy caught a break when she was able to walk right into a music producer Billy Sherrill’s office with her guitar. Although he didn’t like any of her songs, he knew that Tammy was something special and gave her a record deal with Epic Records. Sherrill was responsible for changing Tammy’s name from Virginia Wynette Pugh to Tammy Wynette. When her first single debuted, everyone in country music knew that Tammy Wynette was a forced to be reckoned with. Sherrill later helped Tammy write her most popular hit, Stand By Your Man. It went on to be the biggest selling single in country music history. Four years later, Tammy had won two Grammys and three CMA awards. She continued to rule the country charts for the next decade. Tammy was called the First Lady of Country Music because she was the first female country music singer to sell over one million records.
Tammy went through a number of failed relationships, including a marriage to famed country singer George Jones, who fathered Tammy’s fourth child. In 1978, Tammy married her fifth husband George Richey, a songwriter and producer. She stayed married to Richey until she died. However, some of Tammy’s friends and family didn’t like Richey. They claimed that Richey was extremely controlling of Tammy, and that at one point Tammy even tried to leave Richey. During her marriage to Richey, Tammy’s health steadily declined. Tammy’s beauty quickly faded as a result of her health issues.
When Tammy’s first husband, Euple Byrd, died suddenly in a car crash in 1996, Tammy called her children and Richey’s son and daughter together. She told all six of them she had signed a new Will and wanted everyone to know what the Will said. She also told everyone that she had taken out two $1 million life insurance policies. One was to go to Richey and the other was to be split between her four daughters. Tammy told her children that Richey would own Tammy’s house, awards and possessions until his death, at which point everything would go to Tammy’s daughters and Richey’s children. At the end of the meeting, Richey told everyone that the Will was signed and complete, and said that by telling everyone its contents the Will could never be contested. Tammy also told her daughters which personal possession she wanted to leave to them, and said that she had written down her wishes on a yellow legal pad. Tammy’s children say that Tammy was obsessed with itemizing her possessions because she didn’t want her daughters to think that any of them had been left out. Her daughters also recall that Tammy was fearful that Richey and his family would get everything.
On April 6, 1998, Tammy Wynette was found dead inside her Tennessee mansion at the age of 55. When Tammy died, her death was not reported for several hours. Instead of calling the authorities, Richey called Tammy’s personal doctor directly and asked him to come to the house. When the doctor arrived, he determined that Tammy had died from a blood clot in her lung. Her funeral was widely attended.
Tammy Wynette’s Will
After the funeral, her daughters gathered at the lawyer’s office to hear the reading of the Will. They were shocked at what they heard. Although Richey’s two children were also present, Richey did not attend the reading. Richey and his brother had been appointed a co-trustees of Tammy’s estate. This gave them the authority to distribute assets of the estate and the money earned by the assets owned by Tammy. Tammy’s children were shocked that one of Tammy’s family members was not appointed. Tammy’s Will also stated that $10,000 was left to each grandchild, but that the house, all of Tammy’s personal property and total control of Tammy’s business was to go to Richey only. No money was given to Tammy’s children. Tammy’s daughters were shocked has this was not what they had been told during their meeting with their mother. However, Tammy’s daughters still believed that they would inherit one of the $1 million life insurance policies.
After the meeting, the daughters were asked to stop by Richey’s house, where Richey asked him to sign affidavits stating that the Will was authentic. He also told the daughters that if they tried to contest the Will then they would receive nothing when Richey died. This was because Tammy’s Will contained a no-contest clause stating that anyone who contested the validity of her Will took a risk of being disinherited. This clause worked to Richey’s benefit as it forced Tammy’s daughters to accept a Will that they didn’t think was fair to them. All but one daughter signed the affidavits, believing that their real inheritance was yet to come. Richey then gave each of the three daughters $5,000. The daughter who did not sign an affidavit received nothing. Richey called the $5,000 the first distribution of what would be due the girls under the $1 million life insurance policy. Richey told the girls that they had to wait for the rest until after the tax assessment on Tammy’s estate had been completed before they got the rest.
Since the girls were still expecting to inherit $250,000 each, Tammy’s daughters accepted what Richey said for the time being. A short time later, the girls discovered that they had not been named as the beneficiaries of either of Tammy’s $1 million life insurance policies, despite what their mother had told them. Instead, Tammy had left one policy to Richey and the other to her trust, which Richey and his brother controlled. The trust said that the money left in trust could be used to support Richey until his death, and any excess money could be paid at Richey and his brother’s discretion to Tammy’s children. When the girls approached Richey and asked him why they weren’t named as their mother had told them, Richey claimed that Tammy had changed her mind. He told the girls that he would decide what money, if any, they would receive at a later time. However, Richey was under no obligation to give the girls any money during his lifetime.
In a strange twist of events, the yellow legal pad where Tammy painstakingly wrote out each of her personal belongings and who should receive each belonging went missing. Richey explained this by saying that he didn’t know where it was and that it didn’t matter anyway because Tammy was constantly changing the list. Since the list on the yellow legal pad didn’t accompany the Will, Tammy’s daughters did not receive any of Tammy’s personal belongings that she had promised to them. Richey even kept the girl’s baby books, items left from Tammy’s mother to the girls and even items belonging to the girls themselves.
As upsetting as the changes in Tammy’s Will were to her daughters, they later learned information that was even more upsetting. Prior to her death, Tammy appeared to be recovering from her health problems. As a result, the timing of her death was suspicious. They questioned Richey and Tammy’s doctors, and came to believe that something wasn’t right. They ultimately questioned if Tammy actually died from natural causes.
Since they weren’t getting anywhere in their investigation, in September, 1998, one of Tammy’s daughters told Star Magazine that she was suspicious about the circumstances of Tammy’s death. In her interview, she stated that the girls wanted an autopsy performed on Tammy’s body. During Tammy’s life, her illnesses forced her to start taking powerful drugs to overcome the pain. The drugs prescribed to Tammy were addictive, and some people say that Tammy became addicted to the drugs and would injure herself in an attempt to get them. Some of the drugs were hypnotic and acted so quickly that Tammy would not have been able to administer the drugs herself. Tammy’s daughters claim that Richey was constantly giving Tammy these drugs at their home and blame Richey for Tammy’s addiction. Tammy’s friends and family tried to get Tammy to go to rehab, but Richey was not cooperative. Tammy finally went to rehab, but collapsed after three weeks and was soon back on the drugs. Tammy’s daughters believe that the drugs were the real reason for Tammy’s death, but that Richey covered it up. The girls formally requested an autopsy but were denied by the medical examiner.
The girls later hired a private investigator who dug up information about Tammy’s death. From the investigator, they learned that Richey had never called 911 when he found Tammy. Several hours later when the family attorney arrived, the attorney called 911. When the authorities arrived, they asked for a full list of the medications Tammy was taking. Both Richey and Tammy’s doctor verified the medications Tammy had been taking. Both of them failed to tell the authorities that she had been regularly given some powerful drugs via IV, including hypnotics. Since the coroner was not aware of these medications, he determined that a full autopsy wasn’t needed. Richey was asked if he wanted a full autopsy performed, but he refused.
Upon learning this information, the girls filed a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit against Richey and Tammy’s personal doctor. During deposition, the doctor implicated himself in a number of ways, including how he was shipping the medications to Tammy and that he had not been present when Tammy’s symptoms had become worse the night before. The doctor testified that he told Richey the night before Tammy’s death that Tammy should probably be admitted to the hospital. The doctor said that had Tammy been admitted to the hospital the night before, she would not have died. Confronted with this information, Richey agreed to an autopsy. The autopsy came back inconclusive, primarily because it is impossible to determine the level of drugs in a person’s system more than a year after their death. Instead, the autopsy said that Tammy had died of cardiac arrhythmia, meaning her heart stopped, with no explanation of why it happened. The daughters later dropped Richey from the lawsuit and settled with the doctor.
Richey later remarried, to a woman 30 years younger. When Richey’s died, Tammy’s daughters were convinced that they would finally inherit the money from Tammy’s estate they were entitled to. However, Richey ran up large hospital bills while he was ill and used Tammy’s money to pay those bills. There was no money left in the trust. Even though they wouldn’t get any money, the girls still hoped to get the rights to all of Tammy’s music, likeness, business assets and intellectual property. They then found out that Richey had sold all of that too a few months before his death. They also learned that before he died Richey donated many of Tammy’s personal items to the Country Music Hall of Fame. However the exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame was only to last for a year. After the year was up, all of the items were to go back to Richey’s new wife. Tammy’s daughters stopped this, and the items remain at the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Tammy’s daughters and his two children were not mentioned in George Richey’s Will. To date, Tammy Wynette’s daughters have never received anything from her estate.
Unfortunately, it sounds like Richey took huge advantage of Tammy. An estate plan is incredibly personal and it is too bad for Tammy’s children that the situation ended like it did. A proper estate plan can ensure that your wishes are followed – unlike what happened here. For more information please call Arizona estate planning attorney Abigail Neal at 480-699-7992.