Should Your Estate Plan Be Public?

Joan Rivers. Philip Seymour Hoffman. James Gandolfini. Whitney Houston. Even Leona Helmsley. keep your estate plan private

What do all of these famous people have in common? Their wills have been dissected, scrutinized and publicized by the media. Why? Because of some macabre fascination with how wealthy people divvy up their estates.

Fact is people love to know 2 things about famous people: (1) how wealthy they really are, and (2) who gets the wealth after they die. In 15 years of estate planning, I have never understood why it’s ok for folks to deep-dive into other people’s estate affairs.

I’m not a sociologist. Obviously. So there’s no chance of me ever answering that question satisfactorily. But here’s one thing I do know: there is no need for anyone to know the details of your estate plan. The answer is simple: have a revocable trust.

Keeping Your Estate Plan Quiet

All of these will scrutinizers would have nothing to scrutinize if the terms of the estate plan were spelled out in a revocable trust instead of a will.

The will, in many states – especially New York – is a public document. A revocable trust is not.

Here’s what a website had to say about James Gandolfini’s (the star of HBO’s hit show The Sopranos) will:

Ever since the will became public last month, tax pros have had a field day commenting on what they consider to be faulty planning that will cause Gandolfini’s heirs to pay more estate tax than necessary. Much of this analysis is speculative, since the man who played Tony Soprano probably transferred significant sums in the other perfectly legal, but private, ways.

Forbes, “James Gandolfini’s Will Reflects A Parent’s Dilemma,” August 7, 2013

Wouldn’t it be better for your family if that sort of commentary was extremely difficult to source?

How much better would your will be if it says: “My executor shall be my daughter, Jane. All of my estate shall be transferred to the trustee of my (private) revocable trust”?

The revocable trust, sometimes called a “living trust” has occasionally been criticized as a tool for estate planning attorneys to pump up the fee a bit. In Gandolfini’s case, would that cost – less than 1 basis point relative to the estimated estate value – have been money well spent?

The reality is it costs no more to do a revocable trust as part of a comprehensive estate plan. The will, commonly known as a “pour-over will” typically names a personal representative (executor) and then directs that the estate be paid to the trustee of the trust. Pretty simple really, and it makes the will almost a formality.

Would you rather have your will be a formality or a lead-in for the weather?

Would you rather your estate plan be private or public knowledge?


About Oakstone Law, PL

Oakstone Law PL was founded by Bob Kleinknecht. A member of the Family Trust Subcommittee, the Estate Tax & Trust Planning (ETTP) Committee and the Real Property, Probate & Trust Law (RPPTL) Section of the Florida Bar, Kleinknecht has 15 years’ experience.

Prior to founding Oakstone law, he spent more than eight years serving as a personal, in-house estate, tax and charitable planning attorney for a Forbes 400 family in New York and Florida. Before that he was an estate planning and estate settlement attorney with prominent firms in Boston and Washington, D.C. after beginning his career with a boutique firm in Naples, Florida.

Licensed in Florida and Massachusetts, Kleinknecht has developed a practice model that eliminates billing by the hour and offers a streamlined, customized client process supported by technology, security and a personal approach.

For more information on Oakstone Law, click here. To get in touch with us, click here to send us an email, or call 239-206-3454. Our office is located at 5137 Castello Drive, Suite 2 in Naples, Florida 34103.

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Oakstone Law
1415 Panther Lane, Suite 439
Naples, Florida 34109
Tel: 239.206.3454