An Undeserved Legacy

Stepparents late in life and plans

Robbie Robertson was a seminal figure in Rock ‘n’ Roll. Founder of The Band – famous as Bob Dylan’s backup band and then on their own for more than a decade; made one of the best reviewed solo albums of the 1980s; author of what’s generally regarded as one of – if not the – best rock memoirs ever written; Martin Scorsese’s music consultant (and more) for over a dozen films. 

An amazing life, an amazing legacy . . . or it was until the tabloids swooped in. The legendary guitarist and songwriter died last August at age 80. The accolades and condolences rolled in. 

An Elder Abuse Lawsuit

All of them virtually obscured by the lawsuit just filed in Los Angeles by Robertson’s children, Alexandra, Delphine, and Sebastian. They are accusing Robertson’s widow, Janet Zuccarini, of fraud and financial elder abuse over the final years of the musician’s life.

The lawsuit paints a different picture of the iconic Robbie Robertson, portraying him as weak, vulnerable and manipulated over the last six r seven years of his life – during which time, it should be noted, he supervised all the music for The Irishman, and Killers of the Flower Moon.

Robertson and Zuccarini, a well-known restauranteur from Toronto, began dating in 2018, a relationship that was off and on for some time before becoming ‘serious’ in 2021. At some point, “she allegedly ‘convinced’ him to sell his house so they could buy a ‘trophy home’ together.” Together, they purchased a Beverly Hills home that once belonged to David Geffen for $6 million (though the lawsuit claims Robertson covered the downpayment in full).

They moved in in 2021 and lived there until Robertson’s death. Zuccarini still lives there, which is the crux of the problem. 

A Secret Marriage and an Amended Agreement

In March 2023, Robertson was told by doctors that “he was likely to die soon” from advancing cancer. He had had surgery in 2022 and was taking opioids and THC (the active ingredient in cannabis) to manage his pain. Without notice to Robertson’s family, the couple ‘eloped.’ They were married in a private ceremony in a ‘secret’ location.  

Understand that Robertson’s children are from his long-time marriage to Dominique Bourgeois and he had maintained a very close relationship with all of them after the divorce. This was most certainly not an estrangement situation. The secret marriage, then, came across as something of a betrayal of that closeness.  

When they were finally told that their father had married Zuccarini, Robertson’s children claim their father initially assured them their inheritance would in no way be affected.

What they didn’t know at the time was this: just prior to the wedding, Zuccarini allegedly had Robertson sign a prenup prepared by her attorneys, as well an amended agreement concerning their home that stated that if one of them died, the estate of the deceased would continue to pay one half of the mortgage. This in clear contrast to the original intent – that Robertson and Zuccarini would share all expenses and upon the death of one of them the other would either sell the property and disburse half the proceeds to the other’s heirs or buy the other half from those heirs. 

In other words, Robertson’s death would result in his children – his only heirs according to his will – getting at least $3 million from the house. 

Robertson died five months after the marriage. 

After Robertson’s Death

A few months after his death, Robertson’s children claim that Zuccarini became “cold and distant” and “lawyered up” while blocking them from access to his personal effects, including his ashes. However, “she did bill them for the costs of cremation”.

Things got worse, quickly. 

Zuccarini, according to the lawsuit, “used the revised co-ownership agreement to her advantage, demanding that Robertson’s estate pay for her living expenses in the mansion – a significant financial burden considering the ‘decades’ she could potentially reside there.”

‘Living expenses’ means everything – taxes, utilities, repairs, the works. In other words, Robbie Robertson’s children are expected to pay all the expenses of the home their father co-owned with his new wife for as long as she wants to live there and will receive their inheritance only when she leaves and the home is sold. 

It should be noted that Zuccarini is a very successful businesswoman.

The Lawsuit 

Robertson’s children filed a lawsuit against Zuccarini alleging fraud and elder abuse. 

They claim that “Robertson’s mental state was severely impaired” by medications. “These drugs he was taking, in the period of time when Zuccarini was arranging the secret wedding and having him sign oppressive documents, are known to have significant effects on cognition, including confusion, hallucinations, torpor, depression, memory loss, and dissociation.”  

They go back to the original house contract and allege as well that “Zuccarini convinced a then-ailing Robertson to not only buy the home but also agree to a co-ownership structure where he shouldered the entire down payment . . . it was far from a fair partnership. It came as Robertson was battling cancer, undergoing grueling treatments, and relying on a cocktail of medications that could potentially impair his cognitive abilities.”

They further claim that “Zuccarini exploited this state of vulnerability, manipulating Robertson into signing a prenuptial agreement and a revised ownership agreement for the house that would financially burden his estate for years to come.”

Zuccarini’s actions, then, “was a calculated scheme to drain Robertson’s estate.”  

Early Lessons from the Lawsuit

The lessons are simple and straight forward starting with– in any estate situation, particularly where a party is experiencing health issues, always communicate. Clearly, openly, then memorialize the talks in writing. 

“Don’t worry, kids, you’re still getting an inheritance,” is not clear, open communication without further exposition. 

Most importantly, though, is this: when amending legally binding agreements, adding codicils to wills, asking a partner to sign a prenuptial, and more, always insist that the other party have their own attorney “look it over.”

Had that happened in this case, Robbie Robertson’s legacy would be what it should be.