When actor Burt Reynolds died in 2018 it set in motion a process that has been repeated countless times through human history, the disposition of all worldly possessions of the deceased. At death, his net worth was estimated to be $5 million.
Burt Reynolds had only one heir, a son adopted during his 12-year marriage to actress Loni Anderson. But Burt Reynolds chose to exclude his only child from the will. It states:
“I have one (1) child, Quinton A. Reynolds. I intentionally omit him from this, my last Will and Testament…
But before you get upset that Burt didn’t include his child, his only child, in the will, there’s more to the statement:
…as I have provided for him during my lifetime in my Declaration of Trust.”
Burt omitted Quinton from the will; he didn’t cut Quinton out of the will.
Burt Reynolds had a comprehensive estate plan that included a will and a trust. When the trust was created in 2011, everything went into the trust and the trust became the owner of the Reynolds’ estate. At that point, the will became a just-in-case document that allowed any assets not titled in the name of the trust to be included as trust assets after his death, as described in Article IV of the will.
Another interesting aspect of the Reynolds estate plan was naming his niece as trustee of the trust, rather than Quinton. Quinton Reynolds receives the benefits of being a trust beneficiary but has no control of the assets. The trustee is responsible for making sure the provisions of the trust are met and eliminating any conflict of interest.
It’s unclear what the terms of the Reynolds trust are because trusts are private documents. They do not have to go through probate and details are known by the trustee and those the trustee wishes to share them with.
Wills, on the other hand, are public documents. They have to go through probate and when the will is filed with the court anyone has access to the document. That’s why we know that Quinton Reynolds was omitted from the will, that a trust exists, and who the trustee is.
There are lots of reasons to create an estate plan—privacy, taxes, taking care of beneficiaries, etc. But maybe the best reason is to make sure your wishes are carried out the way want. Whatever your reason, create the plan while you’re still able to. You don’t want your heirs to be omitted from your estate because you just didn’t get around to planning.