Monday, April 12, 2010

Wills of the Rich and Famous!

Spring is here, and so is tax season, so thought I would keep this post short and breezy. Let’s talk about some famous and interesting wills from famous and interesting dead people, shall we?

FYI: Wills are public records. By design they must always be filed (proved) in probate to be effective, which allows anyone interested to read them. Trusts, on the other hand, are generally private documents. They are usually not subject to public view or court review.

From William Shakespeare’s will, some interesting language and an even more interesting bequest:
Item I gyve unto my wief my second best bed with the furniture; Item I gyve and bequeath to my saied daughter Judith my broad silver gilt bole. Question: Why does his wife get the second-best bed?

Leona Helmsley disinherited two of her grandchildren and left $12 million to her dog, aptly named “Trouble”. This kind of bequest is sure to cause trouble and invites a will challenge, and in her case it certainly did!

Warren Burger, Former Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, wrote his own will. He failed to include certain important clauses, such as those giving the executors rights to sell real estate, or pay debts and administrative expenses, forcing his estate to spend time and money in probate court to cure the poorly-drafted will. Moral: Even if you are the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, don’t draft your own will, because you don’t know what you don’t know!

Elvis Presley incorporated trust provisions in his will (called a testamentary trust) in which he specifically provided for his daughter, his grandmother, and his father as beneficiaries. While this is not an unusual practice, it has the effect of making the trust provisions public, and subject to the oversight of the probate court. For these reasons, people often choose to write wills in which all of their probate property “pours” into an existing separate trust, and is managed privately from that instrument.

I hope you enjoyed this will trivia. Have a wonderful week!