Gerald Nicosia, author of the best biography of Jack Kerouac Memory Babe, and editor of a moving account of the life of Kerouac's daughter Jan Kerouac: A Life in Memory, writes about the recent appellate court ruling that the will being used to direct the operations of the Kerouac Estate is a forgery.
In May 1994, Jan Kerouac filed a lawsuit in Pinellas County, Florida, against the Sampas family, alleging that they had forged her grandmother Gabrielle Kerouac’s will. Jack Kerouac had left his entire literary estate to his mother Gabrielle, and when she died, a will was filed leaving all his property to Stella Kerouac, his widow. Jan Kerouac died on June 5, 1996, before the case went to trial; but it was eventually carried on by Jack Kerouac’s nephew, Paul Blake, Jr., son and only child of Jack Kerouac’s late sister Caroline Kerouac Blake. Kerouac, in fact, had written a letter to his nephew Paul the day before he died, telling him that, after his mother passed on, he wanted his entire literary estate to go to Paul.
On July 24, 2009, Judge George Greer in the Probate Court of Pinellas County, Florida, ruled that Jack Kerouac’s mother’s will, leaving his entire estate, including all of his literary properties, to his widow Stella Kerouac was a forgery. In an unusually lengthy and strong decision, Judge Greer wrote that Kerouac’s mother, who was partially paralyzed and bedridden from a stroke, “would have lacked the coordination to affix her signature. The [probate] court is required by law to use a clear and convincing standard in determining these matters. However, even if the criminal standard of beyond all reasonable doubt was the requirement, the result would certainly be the same. Clearly, Gabrielle Kerouac was physically unable to sign the document dated February 13, 1973, and, more importantly, that which appears on the Will dated that date is not her signature.” He “ordered and adjudged that the document bearing date of February 13, 1973 and admitted into probate herein as the last will and testament of Gabrielle Kerouac is a forgery….” He also ordered the probate of Gabrielle’s will, which had given all of her property to Stella, to be revoked.
The Sampas family, the brothers and sisters of Stella who had inherited the Kerouac Estate from her when she died in 1990, immediately took an appeal of Judge Greer’s decision. Co-heir and Literary Executor for the family, John Sampas, told British journalist Stephen Maughan “We do not believe the Will of Gabrielle Kerouac was forged and do believe the Judge based his ruling on fictitious accounts by a doctor who never met Gabrielle Kerouac.” Sampas also lamented that a strong defense of the will had not been put on before Judge Greer. Why he and his family did not mount such a strong defense, he did not explain. “Our lawyers,” Sampas claimed to Maughan, “would have demolished Alan Wagner and his corrupt father Bill Wagner [Paul Blake, Jr.’s attorneys].”
While the appeals process continued, Paul Blake, Jr.’s lawyers were prevented from going after assets of the Kerouac Estate, and even from getting any sort of accounting of those assets. All that is now changed.
On August 10, 2011, the District Court of Appeal of Florida, Second District, ruled against the Sampas family and affirmed Judge Greer’s ruling that Kerouac’s mother’s will was a forgery. The way the decision was written, it is a final decision and cannot be appealed further. That means it is now in the history books that the Kerouac Estate, arguably the most valuable literary estate in recent history, was stolen.
Bill Wagner, Blake’s attorney, stated, “In effect, the war is over. Gabrielle’s will has been determined to be a forgery and now our chore is to see what assets we can trace and still recover or recover rights to.” When Jack Kerouac died, Stella was entitled to only one-third of the estate by a Florida dower’s rights law. The rest should have gone to Jan Kerouac and Paul Blake, Jr. States Wagner: “The Estate of Gabrielle Kerouac is being administered at this time and the Personal Representative [appointed by the Florida court] is collecting information to allow the Estate to benefit as Jack Kerouac intended, subject only to the Widow’s Share awarded at his death to Stella [by Florida state law] ….”
Continues Wagner: “By reason of the above events, the 1/3rd of the assets of Jack Kerouac which passed by law to Stella became the property of Stella’s siblings. The remaining 2/3rd of the assets of Jack Kerouac that passed under Jack’s will to Gabrielle belong to her recently re-opened Estate. The beneficiaries of that Estate are Paul Blake, Jr., and the heirs of Jan Kerouac, sharing equally once the Estate is fully administered. The discovery of tangible personal property and the accounting for intangible personal property, including intellectual property and money assets, both past and future, will be the focus of the Personal Representative under the supervision of the Probate Court.”