Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the death of Samuel L. Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. The New York Times commemorated his passing with an interesting article about his final wishes. The reporter dug up a copy of his handwritten will from the dusty archives of the probate court in Redding, Connecticut, which Twain called home until he died.
The Times also published copies of other probate records from his estate, including a detailed inventory that listed the property he owned at death. The executors reported his assets to be worth $541,136.07 (give or take a few cents) as of the date of his passing. Not a bad sum for a man who found himself broke late in life and rebuilt his fortune in the ten years before he passed.
His largest asset was "50 shares of the capital stock of the Mark Twain Company" valued at $200,000. He owned a great deal of other stock, a 230-acre homestead, some automobiles, three horses and a cow. The court documents detail his various holdings, including the value of furnishings of each room of his house.
So what were his final wishes? Twain left everything to his two daughters. Sadly, one of his daughters, Jean, died on Christmas Eve 1909, only a few months after he wrote his will (on August 17, 1909). Reportedly, Twain took the loss of his daughter hard. The New York Times obituary said that he "Died of a Broken Heart."
Twain gave each daughter 5% of his total estate to start, with the rest held in trust for the two of them. The protective father specifically directed that their shares were to be "free from any control or interference on the part of any husband she may have."
The income from each trust was to be paid to the daughters on a quarterly basis, and each had the right to direct who would receive what was left when she passed. But, because Jean died before her famous father, the other daughter, Clara, became the sole beneficiary.
Twain also directed that his literary works be managed through consultation with Clara and a close friend of his, both of whom he had told how he wished his cherished writings to be handled.
Here is the link to the New York Times article, which in turns has links to the documents themselves and the original Times obituary.
So how can the New York Times publish these documents? Because wills and related filings in probate court are public record. Trusts -- on the other hand -- are not, at least when they are created during life (thus the term "living trust"). Twain's will spelled out (in detail) how he wanted his property to be held in trust for his daughters. This means he created a "testamentary trust" because the trust was established through his will and did not exist until after he died.
In today's day and age, living trusts are much more common and make more sense than testamentary trusts. When properly used, they can avoid probate court entirely. This not only keeps a family's affairs private, but reduces costs, legal fees, time, stress, aggravation, and sometimes even hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) in estate taxes.
Want to read more about celebrity wills, trusts and estates, and how they can help your family and legacy? Visit our website www.TrialAndHeirs.com to learn more.
Posted by: Andrew W. Mayoras and Danielle B. Mayoras, co-authors of Trial and Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founders 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. Andrew and Danielle are husband and wife attorneys, professional speakers and consultants across the country.Follow us on Google+