It was recently reported that the late Burt Reynolds intentionally excluded his only child, an adopted son, from Burt’s Last Will and Testament. On first impression, you may think that Burt made this move to disinherit his son. However, this move was a well-educated estate planning decision.
According to public documents obtained from the Clerk of Court in Martin County, Florida, Burt executed his will back in December 2011. In his will, Burt named his niece as the initial Personal Representative of his estate, and his nephew and great-niece as successors. In this role, Burt’s niece was selected by Burt to be in charge of his assets and affairs, and is the person who submitted Burt’s will to the probate court. If his niece is unable to perform her duties, then Burt’s nephew, and then his great-niece, would fill that role.
Notably absent as a named personal representative or successor in Burt’s will is Burt’s only child, his adult son, Quinton Anderson Reynolds, to whom he adopted with actress Loni Anderson.
As to his son, Burt’s will specifically states,
“I intentionally omit him from this, my Last Will and Testament, as I have provided for him during my lifetime in my Declaration of Trust.”
Because the will is absent of language that describes any specific asset, it is believed that Burt, prior to his death, funded his trust with all of his assets and named Quinton as the sole beneficiary. As such, Quinton is now entitled to all of his father’s possessions, property and money held in the trust. In addition, Quinton is entitled to any income generated from the assets held in Burt’s trust, such as residuals from movies or TV shows, rental property income, or amounts due on any open contracts.
It is important to point out that the terms of a Declaration of Trust, also commonly known as a Living Trust, are private and, therefore, not public information. By creating a private trust, Burt was able to keep an inventory of his assets out of the court and not disclosed to the public – one of the many benefits of creating a trust as an estate planning tool. Most likely, this was done to prevent any predators from seeking out and taking advantage of Quinton.
Another benefit of Burt placing all of his assets in a trust instead of his will is that his son, as beneficiary, will most likely avoid payment of estate taxes. Although Florida does not impose an estate tax (also known as a death tax), there is still the Federal estate/death tax to consider. Because Burt’s trust is private, the exact value of his assets is unknown.
In 2018, the Federal estate tax exemption rose to $11.2 million and, therefore, if Burt’s assets met or exceeded that amount, his estate would be forced to pay death taxes within nine months after Burt’s death. [AUTHOR NOTE: Since the publishing of this article, the Federal death tax exemption increased to $11.58 million in 2020]
The amount of tax would reduce the value of the estate and, thus, the value of assets inherited by Burt’s son. A properly prepared trust can be designed to minimize these taxes, particularly in the case of a celebrity with potentially valuable assets. These types of strategies are not possible with only a will document.
Because Burt’s will was drafted over seven years ago, it is possible that Burt had acquired or lost assets since the date of drafting and forgot to amend his trust accordingly. If, prior to his death, Burt had failed to fund his trust with all of his assets, or failed to amend his trust inventory, his will provides that all those assets not already part of the trust would pass through the estate and into to the trust for the benefit of his trust’s beneficiary, Quinton.
This is a common estate planning technique that helps prevent estate assets from having to pass through probate, possibly causing confusion among loved ones and friends if the grantor did not specifically designate to whom the assets were to be passed.
Lastly, Burt’s will states that his niece, not Quinton, would serve as trustee of Burt’s trust. In doing so, this prevents any conflict of interest since Quinton was named as the sole beneficiary of Burt’s trust. Had Quinton been named the trustee of the trust, as well as the beneficiary, this could allow Quinton’s creditors or predators, if any, to go after the trust’s assets.
If you are interested in learning more about estate planning techniques, such as the ones used by Burt Reynolds, you should work with me as your Personal Family Lawyer® so I walk you step-by-step through the process. Schedule a no-cost initial consultation with me today!