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Actor's death shows how trusts can provide privacy

When a New Jersey resident is moving forward with estate planning, there will be many different aspects of the process that will take precedence. One that they might forget about is how a trust can provide privacy that wills do not. A will is a public document that can be seen by anyone when probate starts. That is not the case with a trust. People who are concerned about their privacy should think about the case of the late actor Jerry Lewis and how his estate plan is now part of the public record and rife for discussion among people who did not know him and are questioning decisions he made that are not their concern.

In Mr. Lewis' will, it was stated that five of his children and their descendants should receive nothing from his estate. In the statement in his will, Mr. Lewis made clear that he did this on purpose by using the word "intentionally." This might have been an attempt on his part to make certain that no litigation would take place regarding his estate plan. Or it could have been done for some other reason. While those who look at the will are likely going to wonder what happened between Mr. Lewis and his family that he decided this was the course to take, in truth, it was his choice and his business.

That is the point that people who are preparing their estate plans and thinking about wills versus trusts must consider. For those who do not have substantial assets and are not concerned about probate, a will is a useful document. However, a trust will let a person maintain privacy and distribute assets as they choose. It is also beneficial with some estate taxes, protect heirs from creditors and shield them from having to go through probate.

When deciding on how best to complete estate planning documents, the decision as to whether to execute a will versus a trust can be complicated, and it can hinge on the individual desires of the testator. An estate planning attorney can help clients decide if it is better to use trusts in lieu of wills or other alternatives.

Source: Forbes, "Jerry Lewis Disinherited 5 Of His Kids, And Here's Why We Know," Mark Eghrari, Sept. 27, 2017

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