Anthony Bourdain’s Death Exposes Important Legal Lesson

The recent shocking death of culinary star Anthony Bourdain is a tragedy on many levels. While the people who personally knew him best such as his family and friends are suffering from his unexpected passing, he also enjoyed a sizable fanbase which is also emotional over his death.

Bourdain emerged on the public radar in 2000 with the release of his best-selling book “Kitchen Confidential.” The memoir fueled his rise to stardom, and in 2013 his television show “Parts Unknown” debuted on CNN. The show, which featured Bourdain traveling to lesser-known places around the globe for an in-depth look at their culture and cuisine, won five Emmy awards, a Peabody award, and a plethora of nominations for various categories. The show will forever be tied to Bourdain’s legacy, as his death on June 8, 2018, occurred while he was filming an episode in Strasbourg, France.

Bourdain’s Estate Value Raises Eyebrows

Subsequent news stories published in the aftermath of Bourdain’s death revealed some surprising information. The court filings for his estate administration valued Bourdain’s estate at $1.2 million, most of which was left to his eleven-year-old daughter. Among the assets owned at the time of his death, his estate included $500,000 in royalties and earnings from his television work, $35,000 in brokerage accounts, $250,000 in personal property such as vehicles, furniture, books, and $425,000 in savings and cash.

Most media accounts focused on the $1.2 million figure and commented on how they anticipated the late star’s wealth would have been higher based on his celebrity. Some estimates had Bourdain’s net worth as high as $16 million. But as often happens, most people ignored a crucial detail in the details of Anthony Bourdain’s assets and estate plan.

In addition to the assets disclosed above, Bourdain also had a trust at the time of his death. The existence of a trust is much more than a mere footnote. A trust can be a vitally important part of your estate planning, but the function of trusts is one of the most often misunderstood legal concepts for most people. As a result, the trust is either misused or not used at all.

What Is a Trust and How Does It Work?

The best way to think of a trust is like a thermos. You buy a thermos to keep hot liquids heated so you can enjoy them at a later time. Think of some hot coffee as your assets, such as real estate, bank accounts, vehicles, etc. Finally, think of your will like the glass pot you made the coffee in.

The primary goal is to preserve your assets (the coffee), which is why you initially bought the thermos. But if you fail to pour the coffee into the thermos, then the thermos will be unable to do its job. You’ll still have the coffee, but it will get cold in the pot next to the empty thermos. Not the outcome you anticipated when you bought the thermos, right?

A trust is worthless if you fail to correctly transfer your assets to the trust before you pass away. Unlike a will, trusts aren’t processed in probate court. Additionally, trusts stay private, while wills are publicly filed court documents. To go back to the coffee analogy one last time, when the coffee is properly placed in the thermos, nobody knows what’s inside except for you. When the coffee is left out in the glass pot, everyone can see everything. So, a trust not only protects your assets from the probate process, but it also protects your assets from the public eye.

How a Trust Could Benefit You and Protect Your Family

The key takeaway is that the assets that go through probate do not tell the entire story of the assets that the decedent owned. In the case of Anthony Bourdain, all it tells us is that he had not transferred all of his assets to his revocable trust and those assets are now subject to probate.

The assets that had been transferred to his revocable trust do not have to go through probate and thus what they are and what they are worth stays private. Additionally, the recipients of those trust assets also remain secret. For those reasons, the importance of getting all assets titled in the revocable trust is a vital component of a comprehensive estate plan.

At Magee & Adler, we work with all of our estate planning clients to not only formulate a custom estate plan designed to fit everyone’s individual needs but also take every necessary step to implement that plan to ensure all of your wishes are carried out to the letter. For more information, contact our office at 562-432-1001 and schedule an appointment with one of our experienced attorneys.

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