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Lust for Charities

I am back after a two month hiatus fostered by writing for other projects, being slammed at work, re-locating our lives to Phoenix for five weeks, and suffering a dearth of worthwhile news in the celebrity estate planning area. Who knew that the death of a 103 year Hollywood icon would snap the streak?

Media outlets, led by the Daily Mirror from London, are reporting that the recently deceased Kirk Douglas left $50 million of his $61 million fortune to charity. Specifically, he left the money to the Douglas Foundation which he and his 100 year old widow, founded in 1964. All accounts seem flummoxed by where he left the remaining $11 million of his estate. The same reports want to scandalize the fact that he did not leave any money to his famous son, Michael Douglas. No links to his actual will have appeared on line yet.

Several illuminating points:

1. California is a community property state which means that Douglas’ widow, Anne, likely has an estate also worth $61 million.

2. In 2020, an individual may leave $11.6 million free of estate taxes to children or other individuals. It is not a coincidence that $11 million is the amount of funds that the reporters cannot account for. Those funds will likely fund a trust for his wife and two sons.

3. It is extremely rare to leave funds to a child while a spouse is living.

4. Michael Douglas is reportedly worth $300 million which is more than he can spend in his remaining years. It does not make sense to leave any funds to an independently wealthy 75 year old cancer survivor who will pay estate taxes on 40% of the inherited assets at the time of his death.

5. Journalism is not hard, but it certainly is lazy when journalists are afraid to have reliable sources and to ask questions about concepts with which they are unfamiliar.

Photo Credit:  Catherine Zeta Jones Instagram

License:  Fair Use/Education (from linked article)

Unmarried Without Children

shoe salesman

 

In lieu of much newsworthy, I will resort to the evergreen story of the seemingly penniless senior citizen who left a large bequest to a charity in his will. Ken Millen was born in Aberdeen, WA, attended Grays Harbor College there, worked as shoe salesman until the store went out of business in the ’80s, and always lived in the house in which he was born. He inherited some funds 20 years ago from a brother who was an attorney in the South. When Millen died last year, he left some crappy personal property, including his 1979 car, to his neighbors who treated him like a family member. He left the remaining $1 million to his alma mater. The neighbors ended up hauling most of the personal belongings to the dump because they were worthless.

A few non-legal points:

1. As heart warming as these stories are portrayed, they are actually somewhat bothersome in that an individual who was treated decently and warmly by neighbors for years eschews leaving them any funds in lieu of giving it to an institution he attended 65 years ago but likely did not have much present contact with.

2. Estate planning attorneys need to do a better job with clients without living relatives to guide them to leaving some meaningful assets to important individuals in their lives rather than faceless institutions.

3. Mercifully Grays Harbor College does not have a football team so the bequest cannot be wasted on an unnecessary scoreboard.

4. To quote Aberdeen’s most famous resident: “I found it hard, it’s hard to find, Oh well, whatever, never mind.”

Old Adult Fiction

new hampshire A former University of New Hampshire librarian who lived frugally, left his entire $4 million estate to the university. The UNH promptly fulfilled his mostly unrestricted bequest by allocating $100K to the library where he worked (some might say toiled) for 50 years, $1 million for a video scoreboard for the football stadium, and $2.5 million for the career center to presumably assist students with worthless majors like women’s studies, anthropology, and fine arts find jobs other than as baristas.

Several points only marginally associated with estate planning: 

  1. By leaving his entire estate to charity, the former librarian will not incur state or federal estate tax. 
  2. Even though he spent the last year of his life in an assisted living facility watching (and finally learning about) football, I highly doubt that he would approve of UNH spending $1 million in his name on a video scoreboard for their minor league football team (avg attendance 6,000 last year). I doubt the absence of a video scoreboard is keeping people away. 
  3. Although assisting students with job placement after they selected useless majors is a questionable use of one’s savings, it is no less worthy than leaving money to a library in the 21st Century when most functions of a library are available on on-line (except for providing a physical warm or cool space for the homeless during the Winter or Summer).

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All Posts By Jay Brinker

I am an attorney located in Cincinnati, Ohio who practices in the areas of estate planning, probate, asset protection, and small business advice. I make a difficult and bewildering process as simple as possible. Most importantly, I provide "more for less" for my clients.