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.
All we can do is speculate. We can’t tell, except for the tangible personal property, 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, and so on. Those details are in his revocable living trust. He may have also gifted his assets during his life—or he may have passed them by beneficiary designation or title.
So, don’t believe everything you read. Remember, just because it’s in print doesn’t mean it’s true, and things aren’t always as they seem. 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.
Reference: The National Review (December 9, 2014) "The Death of Mike Nichols and Estate Planning"