A recent headline in the New York Daily News, pertaining to the death of film director, Mike Nichols, highlighted the misinformation and confusion regarding how assets pass upon death. The headline said Nichols "left his estate to his widow, Diane Sawyer, and his three adult children." The article went on to say his $20 million estate was split between Sawyer and his three adult children "according to estate papers." It quoted from Nichols' will that left his "tangible personal property" to Ms. Sawyer. However, except for tangible personal property (e.g., jewelry, furniture, art), the "pour over" will did not set forth how his assets were left.
Unlike many celebrities and famous public figures, why do we know so little about the estate of award winning director Mike Nichols? An article from The National Review, titled "The Death of Mike Nichols and Estate Planning," has the answer.
It seems the "[d]etails of the distribution ...are concealed in a private trust that has not been made public." Experts say that, in all likelihood, Nichols had a "revocable living trust" containing the dispositive provisions of his estate. Consequently, with such a trust his wishes were shielded from the public and not part of a court record, which is public.
While some will undoubtedly chose to speculate about what this private citizen did with his wealth, I applaud his good planning. We can’t tell (nor is it truly any of our business to know), if the famous director split his assets between his wife and children—or left them all to his wife, or all to his children, or all to charity. Those details are in a private family document known as a revocable living trust.
From an estate perspective, the moral of the story according to Forbes is to use a revocable living trust to avoid probate and to provide many advantages over just a will, not just the privacy advantage that Nichols achieved. Contact an experienced estate planning attorney to help determine whether a revocable living trust is appropriate for you.
You can learn more about this topic as well as other strategies on our website under the tab entitled: estate planning in Virginia. Be sure you also sign up for our complimentary e-newsletter so that you may be informed of all the latest issues that could affect you, your loved ones and your estate planning.
Reference: The National Review (December 9, 2014) "The Death of Mike Nichols and Estate Planning"