Kennedy died on August 25, 2009, from brain cancer, at age 77. He was survived by his wife of 17 years, Victoria, his three children, and two step-children. Here is a copy of his will, courtesy of FOX TV in Boston: Download Ted Kennedy's will.
Kennedy's will reveals that he did the important estate planning that most adults in this country would benefit from ... he created a revocable living trust, The Edward M. Kennedy 2006 Trust. His will directed that all of his assets pass into this trust.
The will states that the trust provides for his wife, three children, other relatives, and for payments of his debts and taxes. It suggests he left nothing for his wife's two children, Kennedy's step-children.
As with other celebrities who died recently (such as Michael Jackson and Farah Fawcett), the fact the will was filed means that Kennedy didn't fund all of his assets into his trust. If he had, then it wouldn't have been necessary to file the will or expose his estate to probate court. Wills and other documents filed in probate courts are public records for everyone to read. Many people choose to use a revocable living trust to avoid probate entirely, but this only works if the trust is fully funded.
Because Kennedy didn't do so, we now get to see interesting details like the identify of the person he trusted to serve as executor of his estate and trustee of his trust. For these important roles, he selected Paul G. Kirk, Jr. That's right, the very same trusted family friend and confidant who was recently tabbed to fill Kennedy's Senate seat until the special election can be held for the public to vote and choose the next Senator.
That sounds like a lot to ask of Kirk. In fact, one has to wonder if Kirk will chose to resign his position as either executor or trustee because his plate will already be very full. Serving these important roles is not easy.
Interestingly, Kennedy named his son, Edward Kennedy, Jr., as the back-up choice instead of his wife.
So how much will Kirk (or Edward, Jr. if Kirk is too busy to accept the position) have to manage in the estate or trust? We don't know yet. We'll be able to discover how much is in the estate when an inventory listing the estate assets is filed in the next two or three months. But this will only include the property in Kennedy's name alone, not those assets already funded into his trust or left in joint tenancy (such as joint bank accounts). These assets don't pass through probate court and aren't public record.
But we do know that the entire estate and trust fortune will be a lot. According to published reports, including this one from FOX Boston, Kennedy's publicly-traded assets were listed in a 2008 federal financial disclosure report to be between $15 million and $72.6 million. And that's only a fraction of his total assets. His home was noted to be assessed for tax purposes at almost $10 million.
With all this money involved, Kennedy certainly made his choice of executor very carefully. He didn't choose his wife of 17 years, despite the fact she's a lawyer, was his trusted political confidant and managed his medical care.
As with many second-marriage situations, decisions like this are critical. There always is the potential for fighting when a spouse or child is chosen because the others often won't trust the one in charge. Was that why Kennedy didn't choose his wife Victoria?
Danielle Mayoras (my wife and law partner) and I recently wrote a book that chronicles many of the famous fortune fights that erupt in this exact situation. Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! teaches people how to protect their families from these fights, as well as what to do if a fight has already started.
Will Kennedy's choice of executor and trustee prevent a family fight in court? We'll find out.
Posted by: Author and probate attorney Andrew W. Mayoras, co-author of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founder and shareholder of The Center for Probate Litigation and The Center for Elder Law in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law. You can email him at awmayoras @ brmmlaw.com.Follow us on Google+