Elizabeth Edwards was a thoughtful woman who always seemed sure of what she wanted, so when it was revealed earlier this month that her will left everything to her children, with no mention of her husband John Edwards, nobody doubted she knew exactly what she was doing. There has been no end of speculation in the media about why Elizabeth Edwards’ will makes no mention of her estranged husband, but of more interest to me as an estate and tax planner is the fact that she could and did choose to bypass her husband in this particular estate planning document.
A closer look at Elizabeth Edwards’ will reveals that the section leaving “all of my furniture, furnishings, household goods, jewelry, china, silverware and personal effects… to my children…” is not the whole story. Further down in her will Edwards bequeaths “all the residue and remainder of my property and estate…” to a “Revocable Declaration of Trust.” It is safe to assume that most of Elizabeth Edwards’ estate will be distributed according to the private terms of this Revocable Trust—and it is quite possible that this trust may contain provisions for her husband. Whether or not the Trust mentions John Edwards is something the public may never know, and that is probably exactly how Elizabeth Edwards wanted it.
Many husbands and wives assume that what is known as the “I love you” will (a will that simply leaves everything to your spouse) is their only option when it comes to inheritance and estate planning; but as Elizabeth Edwards proves, this is not necessarily the case. In fact, not only are “I love you” wills not your only option, in most cases they are not even your best option. Revocable Living Trusts, for example, are excellent estate planning tools because—in addition to being private—Trusts are extremely flexible, allowing the grantors to have an extensive amount of control over how their estate will be distributed; not only immediately following their death, but possibly for years afterward.
Elizabeth Edwards has been quoted as saying that in spite of their differences, she saw John Edwards as “the father of my children, and that’s very important to me… Particularly since I have a terminal disease, this is the person who at some point will take over the primary parenting, and it’s important to me that he heal, if he needs to.” In light of this statement, it’s unlikely that she would have used her will as a way to “get back at” or seek revenge on her husband. It is more likely that she chose to distribute most of her estate privately through her Revocable Trust.
If you are interested in a Revocable Living Trust (or other advanced estate planning techniques) for your family, please contact our office.