“Tony Curtis Disinherited His Children!”

As so often happens, the most important story is the one not told.  Yesterday, Inside Edition broke the news that the late Tony Curtis, who passed away in September of 2010, had specifically disinherited his children in his will. To the tabloids, what is important here is that, five months before his death, Tony Curtis re-wrote his will.  (Amusingly, some have referred to five months before his death as his “last days.”)

I haven’t personally seen the will, so I’m don’t know whether Inside Edition is correct in it’s implied allegation that Mr. Curtis apparently didn’t leave anything to his children. After all, he could have easily provided for them in other ways (life insurance, direct beneficiary investment accounts, etc.).

Assuming that they are correct,  what is astonishing is not that he disinherited his children, which frankly happens often enough not to produce comment by estate planning attorneys like myself, but that he chose to do so publicly when it would be so easy to privately leave his estate to his widow, Jill Vandenberg Curtis.  Let me quote InsideEdition.com:

“INSIDE EDITION has obtained the will, written five months before his death from cardiac arrest last year at age 85. His children are listed by name, including Jamie Lee. Then there’s this statement: “I acknowledge the existence of my children…and have intentionally and with full knowledge chosen not to provide for them.”  Instead, Curtis leaves his estate to his widow, Jill.”

Ignore for a moment that Tony Curtis has joined a long line of celebrities who fail to consider the ramifications of the Probate process.

Instead, consider this: Tony Curtis could have accompished the exact same thing, disinheriting his children and leaving his entire estate to his wife, and done it privately, without his widow and children being exposed to our prying eyes.

If Tony Curtis had made a trust, then his will would simply direct that his entire estate be distributed to the trust. Then, in the trust document, which would remain private, he could direct that everything be distributed to his wife.  Voila!  The exact same result, but without dragging the family through the tabloid mud. After all, it’s really none of our business.

Furthermore, by using a trust, he could have easily left something to his favorite charities, to particular friends, or to his grandchildren or great-grandchildren, who one assumes are too young to have voiced disapproval over Mr. Curtis’ life choices. It begs the question: was the omission intentional? Did he actually desire this result, or did he just not ask anyone’s advice? I think it was the latter – most people simply don’t know the right questions to ask.

Ironically, Jill Curtis’ response to the tabloid reports was: “Tony’s last will and testament and his passing wishes . . . are private family matters.” Sadly, they’re not private at all. But they could have been.