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If Anthony Bourdain Added Trust, There Would Have Been More Will Power

Jennifer White is the Director of Client Engagement for BlueSky Wealth Advisor and is located in New Bern, NC.

Perhaps one of the most heartbreaking points of Anthony Bourdain's death is the mere fact that he thought his 11-year-old daughter was going to be taken care after he was gone. As reported in the press, he left an estimated $1.21 million estate to Ariane Bourdain. Unfortunately, she will most likely end up with a fraction of this. So why is this? Did he not have a will?  Actually, yes, Anthony Bourdain did have a will, but he did not have a living trust. By definition, a living trust or inter-vivos trust is a fiduciary relationship used in estate planning created during the lifetime of the trustor. This trust has a duration that is determined at the time of the trust's creation and can entail the distribution of assets to the beneficiary during or after the trustor's lifetime. So when you die, your trust stays in place and will execute what is outlined within the trust.

Bourdain was a beloved celebrity who tragically took his own life while filming in France, leaving plenty of cause for global interest and sensation. This also means his distraught family is left exposed to the dealings of a very curious public following. If Bourdain had been advised to create a living trust, the trust would still be “alive” and therefore private. This would have protected his family, and most importantly his daughter from going through what  should be a very personal time, so publicly.

The laws of probate differ state by state. In New York, if you have will in place when you die, you must go through probate if you have property with a value in excess of $30,000.  Bourdain left behind approximately $425,000 of cash, and very little in investments, around $35,000. The probate court system is notoriously slow and very expensive to navigate so there will probably be very little money left for his daughter.The public court documents also revealed that he had a large mortgage of $1.1 million; although the property was not stated. If Bourdain had a living trust, the entire probate process could have been avoided. Instead, a great deal of this money will likely be used to pay the lawyers and other legal representatives throughout the lengthy process.

Although Bourdain’s estranged wife, Ottavia Busia-Bourdain was chosen to act as the executor of his estate, there was no legal guardian assigned for Ariane. Since she is a minor, the court will now be charged with deciding who will be keeping her inheritance safe.  There will most likely be an additional cost affiliated with payment to whomever the court chooses to be the guardian of the estate , as well as the appointed trustee.

Still, many people may be wondering, “There must be more money than that somewhere?” What about all of the royalties? Aren’t there any residual payments? Another unfortunate mistake, Bourdain did not have any of his royalty earnings set up in an entity or LLC. Had he held these earnings in a separate legal entity he may have been able to protect them against any outstanding debts that may arise through probate and the money could flow freely to his heirs.

The whole situation from start to finish is tragic. Anthony Bourdain was a gifted human who showed us the many beautiful sides of the world that we could only dream of experiencing. If there is to be any good that comes out of such a tragedy, perhaps it is the lesson we learned about estate planning - be sure you are not creating any more sorrow for those after you are gone by taking smart steps to protect your assets after you’re gone.


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