Comedian Jerry Lewis died recently at age 91. Unlike many celebrities, he apparently owned most of his assets outright and disposed of them through a will. That has a least two effects. One is that the estate must go through the time and expense of the probate process. The other effect is that the details of the will are public.
For example, we learned from the filing of the will that he deliberately excluded five of his six children from inheriting under the will. There’s no requirement that a child or children inherit anything, though most states require that a surviving spouse receive at least a minimum percentage of the estate unless the right is waived in writing. Of course, this process also leaves out a lot of details. For example, Lewis might already have given money to these children during his lifetime or placed money for them in trusts that aren’t public. If you don’t want the terms and value of your estate to be public and subject to discussion, have most of your assets in trusts or other forms that avoid the probate process (such as joint title, retirement accounts, annuities, and life insurance).
A will is a public document. Once the probate process begins — which is what happens when you use a will as an estate planning device — anyone can view it. That’s how we know that one of the provisions in Lewis’ will states:
“I have intentionally excluded GARY LEWIS, RONALD LEWIS, ANTHONY JOSEPH LEWIS, CHRISTOPHER JOSEPH LEWIS, SCOTT ANTHONY LEWIS and JOSEPH CHRISTOPHER LEWIS and their descendants as beneficiaries of my estate, it being my intention to that they shall receive no benefits hereunder.”