Jack Kerouac died in October 1969 with an estate valued at $91.00. At odds with his third wife, Stella Sampas, Jack’s will left everything to his mother, Gabrielle, leaving no mention of any of his three wives, or daughter Jan – who Jack had met twice before he died. Stella claimed a “widow’s share,” under Florida law granting her the right to one-third of Jack’s property.
The day before he died, in a letter Jack wrote to his nephew Paul Blake, Jr. stating:
“my entire estate, real, personal, and mixed all goes to you…You can do anything you want with my property if I kick the bucket because we’re of the same blood.”
Stella nursed Gabrielle until her death in October 1973. Gabrielle’s will left the entire estate to Stella who failed to notify Jan or Paul. When probating Gabrielle’s will, Stella stated that there were no other known heirs.
Stella died in 1990, leaving the Kerouac literary estate to her siblings; with her youngest brother John acting as executor.
However in May 1994 Jan Kerouac filed a lawsuit submitting that Gabrielle was too unwell to sign her name as it appears on her will; submitting Gabrielles signature had been forged. Additionally, the witness to the signature claimed he had witnessed no such thing. Following Jan’s death from kidney disease in 1996 aged 44, Paul Blake Jr. continued the action.
The Sampas family
The Sampas family submission is that Stella became Gabrielle’s caretaker, and when Gabrielle died in 1973, a combination of her estate and Florida state law left Kerouac’s literary estate to Stella. When Stella in 1990, the Kerouac properties were left to her siblings who appointed John Sampas – who controlled Jack’s name, likeness and titles – as their trustee.
In 1992 the estate allowed City Lights to publish “Pomes All Sizes” the first release by Jack in 15 years. Multiple volumes of Kerouac poetry, prose, letters and journals, authorised for publication by the estate have followed.
Importantly the estate has sold both privately and to institutions. In 2001 the New York Public Library Berg Collection acquired Kerouac’s letters, journals and original manuscripts.
Stella left the original scroll of “On the Road” to her younger brother Tony Sampas. One of the most valuable manuscripts in American letters it is 120 feet long and was typed on a single sheet of teletype paper. The scroll was on deposit at the New York Public Library for 10 years until its sale for $2.4 million at Christie’s in 2001.
In 2009 following medical evidence and the testimony of a handwriting expert, Floridian courts declared Gabriel Kerouac’s will a forgery. However there is no evidence that any member of the Sampas family committed the act of fraud.
Additionally, it would be impossible to reclaim the sold items and return them to Paul– Kerouac’s only living relative. Similarly it has been reported that 98% of what survives of Jack’s writing are held and available for study in the Berg Collection – including copies of documents sold to generate operation capital for the estate.
The Sampas family affirmed a 2004 court order that they had inherited from Stella’s will, not Gabrielle’s will. On The Road alone sells upward of 100,000 copies a year with royalties from all of Jack’s books going to the Sampas family.
Following John Sampas’s death his nephew Jim Sampas, producer of the 2013 movie “Big Sur,” was named literary executor has helped administer the estate for about a decade.
“I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion”
Regardless of any rights and wrongs, John Sampas’ stewardship of the estate has firmly cemented Jack Kerouac as a literary icon, enabling his role in twentieth-century literature to be studied and given the respect it deserves as one of the founders of the beat generation of writers