Legal battles nearing end for ‘Home Improvement’ star

It will be one of the happiest birthdays of his star-studded but legally embattled life.

When former child television star Taran Noah Smith turns 18 Monday, he’ll finally gain access to the income from his $1.5 million trust fund.

Taran Noah Smith, 17, who co-starred in Home

Smith, who’s been living in Lawrence since August, earned the wealth during his early childhood, when for eight seasons he played the youngest son on the popular television sitcom “Home Improvement.” But he’s been in and out of California courts the past year, fighting his parents for the right to his money.

Smith wanted early access to the interest generated by the blocked trust fund because he claimed his parents were squandering it. His parents have vehemently denied his accusations.

Smith’s 18th birthday, which brings him legal adulthood, will put an end to the bitter feuding.

“Things are definitely falling into place,” Smith said in a phone interview from Los Angeles, where he and his 33-year-old wife, Heidi Van Pelt, are staying for a few months while Smith ties up loose ends. “Things are going better with my family. We’re starting the long road to working things out. They’re starting to realize that I’m my own person now and starting to treat me as such.”

Now, Smith just needs to redecorate and sell the $800,000 Los Angeles home his parents have conceded belongs to him and get on with his life in Lawrence a life he said won’t include basking in the glow of his wealth.

“I’m not into being a rich person. I see money as sort of like blood flowing through veins,” he said. “As much as I want to make a lot of money, I don’t want to hold onto it. I want it to flow out into projects.”

Smith and Van Pelt have big plans for the thousands of dollars in interest the trust fund produces each month.

“There’s so much that we want to do,” Smith said. “We’ve been stuck in kind of the planning and plotting stage. We’ll finally be able to do some serious work. I’m very excited about that.”

Among the couple’s list of projects: buying an industrial building in east Lawrence that would be home to the couple and headquarters for a line of packaged organic foods and a wholesale distribution operation for tropical foods.

They also plan to start a production company for music, television and Internet ventures, “to further the independent artistic spirit,” Smith said.

“I disagree with practically everything that comes out of mainstream Hollywood. We want to add our piece to it. Lawrence has so much creative energy that it would really help to have an outlet for it.”

The couple ended up in this “energetic” college town because Van Pelt, who is originally from Kansas City, Mo., has known Lawrence attorney David Whinery since she was 16. Whinery married Smith and Van Pelt under common law on April 27, 2001, in Topeka. The couple lived in Whinery’s basement last summer until they were able to scrounge up enough money to rent a place of their own.

“He’s helped me unbelievably,” Smith said of Whinery. “It’s because of him that we found Lawrence and decided that’s where we wanted to be.”

Eventually, Smith said, he would like to campaign on behalf of children’s rights so other child stars don’t have to go through what he went through.

“As much hell as it caused me, the hell is still very relative, considering that there are people dying and starving all over the world,” Smith said. “I’m still probably the luckiest person I know.”