Revocable Trust Lessons After the Death of Stephen Sondheim

When Stephen Sondheim recently passed away, he passed on all rights associated with his theatrical work including several well-known musicals including several unfinished pieces to a trust, which will be tasked with managing his estate. 

The Sondheim trust now will assess the future of  the well-known artist’s intellectual works in addition to any other assets he owned at the time that he  passed away. The arrangements regarding what will happen to Sondheim’s assets are contained in a petition that was recently signed and then filed with New York Surrogate Court. 

A petition for probate reports that the approximate worth of Sondheim’s assets when he passed away was greater than $500,00 and less than $75 million. Several estate planning attorneys, however, suggested exercising caution in reading these numbers, which are simply a rough estimate and do not depict the worth of whatever Sondheim positioned in a trust while he was alive. 

$75 million is the reported maximum of the worth of the assets in Sondheim’s name and which are located in the Stephen J Sondheim Revocable Trust. While other assets exist that do not pass under Sondheim’s wills, it’s possible the $75 million represents the majority of Sondheim’s assets. 

Court filings included a 2017 version of a will leaving all of Sondheim’s assets to a revocable trust as well as a probate petition assembled by Sondheim’s attorney that names beneficiaries of the trust. 

The Role of Revocable Trusts

Utilizing a revocable trust is a widely used estate planning strategy. Among other advantages, revocable trusts grant more privacy than other estate planning tools.

Entities named as beneficiaries in Sondheim’s trust include various organizations including the Smithsonian Institute and the Library of Congress. The  City of New York’s Museum is named as a beneficiary that is contingent by the trust, but legal filings do not clarify what this term is. Besides various organizations, a dozen people are also named as beneficiaries to the trust including friends and neighbors. Some of the individuals who are named as beneficiaries include Sondheim’s husband, a Sondheim collaborator, a man with whom Sondheim had a romantic relationship, and Sondheim’s assistant.

The Advantage of Utilizing a Revocable Trust

The primary benefit of revocable trusts is that they let a person avoid probate. Some of the other advantages that people realize by creating revocable trusts include:

  • Revocable trusts let a person make changes to the trust while they are still alive.
  • Revocable trusts are a wise choice for people who want to maintain privacy about assets after they pass away.
  • A person can disinherit anyone who challenges estate plans.
  • For married couples who have a substantial property that was acquired before the marriage, trusts can help to keep these assets separate from community property.
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