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Soon after the tragic news broke of the passing of Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder and innovator extraordinaire, people began wondering what would become of his fortune.  Forbes recently estimated Jobs’ wealth at $7 billion.   Steve Jobs

ABCNews.com recently interviewed Danielle Mayoras on this very topic.  It reported how Jobs, the largest single shareholder of Disney (which of course owns ABC News), has received $242 million in Disney stock dividends alone, since 2006.  How much is his Disney stock worth?  $4.4 billion, for 138 million shares, good for 7.4 percent of the total Disney stock.

As Danielle pointed out in the interview, usually people with that much wealth do the proper estate planning, including using living trusts, charitable bequests, and more.  Not only does this keep their affairs private, it can help minimize estate taxes.  Topping out at 35%, the current estate tax laws — while much lower than in years past — will obviously take a big bite out of Jobs’ family fortune.  That comes out to almost $2.45 billion in taxes, if Jobs did not do the proper planning.

Ultimately, we are unlikely to ever discover the full extent of planning Jobs did to minimize his taxes.  When living trusts are used the right way — and assets are funded into them before death — families are protected by privacy.  Wills must pass through probate court to work, which means they are public record.  Trusts, on the other hand, when properly funded before death, remain out of the public eye, unless there are problems, like a lawsuit.

Reuters reported that Jobs did use living trusts.  Real estate records in California show that in March, 2009, which was about two months after Jobs took his second leave of absence from Apple, Jobs and his wife transferred three real estate properties into two different trusts.  This means he funded those trusts with that real estate.  Funding a trust is key to using it correctly.

Does this mean Jobs funded all of his assets, such as his Disney stock, into his trusts too?  We don’t know.  But with someone as intelligent — and private — as Jobs was, the smart money is on him having done so.   The only way we’ll find out for sure, though, is if someone files his will in probate and opens his estate.  If that happens, it would be reported what assets have to pass through probate, which would only include assets that were not funded into the trusts during his life.  Jointly-held assets, such as joint bank accounts with his wife, and assets with beneficiary designations, like insurance, also would not have to pass through probate in most cases.

The proper estate planning is extra important when there are complicated family dynamics, such as second-marriages or with siblings who do not get along.  In Job’s family, his first child was born out-of-wedlock to another woman, before his marriage, so doing the right legal planning was even more important for him.  A child does not have an automatic right to share in the inheritance, so how much Jobs chose to leave her — and his other children — was up to him.  When people don’t make their intent clear in their estate planning documents, families often fight over their wishes, especially when there are children of different parents involved.

So many rich and famous people fail to do the proper estate planning.  Michael Jackson, James Brown, Gary Coleman, Sonny Bono, Jimi Hendrix, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Stieg Larsson are just a few that we have written about through Trial & Heirs, to help teach people about doing the proper planning to protect their family fortunes.

It’s refreshing to write about a celebrity who apparently did things right.

By Danielle and Andy Mayoras, co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!, husband-and-wife legacy expert attorneys, and hosts of the national television special, Trial & Heirs:  Protect Your Family Fortune! For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click here to subscribe to The Trial & Heirs Update.  You can “like” them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Google+.

For legal help in Michigan, visit Andy and Danielle's law firm's websites, The Center for Elder Law and The Center for Probate Litigation