Estate Troubles of the Rich and Famous: Matthew Perry

Estate Troubles of the Rich and Famous: Matthew Perry

Many were saddened by the sudden passing of Matthew Perry last fall.  Fortunately, for Matthew’s loved ones, he had an estate plan in place which, to date, has not been challenged. Although Matthew’s estate plan does not, so far, highlight any “troubles” (despite the name of this article), it does present a couple of interesting estate planning ideas that are worth discussing.

First, the representatives of Matthew’s estate have stated that Matthew was never married and never had any children.  The beneficiaries of his estate are now known to be his two parents, his half-sister, and an ex-girlfriend.  However, his estate plan includes specific language stating that he intentionally has not provided for any other heirs or relatives that are not specifically named, including any stepchildren or foster children that he may have had at the time the documents were signed or at any time in the future.  It may be routine for celebrities to include such language in their estate plan to prevent alleged heirs from coming out of the woodwork following a death to try to get a piece of the estate.  However, this added language also clearly states Matthew’s intentions as to anyone not specifically named, which may be necessary, or at least helpful, in upholding the documents in the face of a challenge by an after-born child or a later-married spouse.  For example, New Jersey law provides for both after-born children (born after the Will was executed) and a spouse who had married the decedent after the Will was executed.  These laws include exceptions if, among other things, the facts can show that the decedent’s intentions are clear.  Therefore, the inclusion of provisions like the one in Matthew’s documents can be beneficial even for non-celebrities.  However, your best bet is to update your estate plan whenever a significant life event occurs, such as a marriage or the birth of a child, to ensure your exact intentions are carried out.

Second, it is well-known that celebrities often incorporate trusts into their estate plan due to, among other reasons, privacy concerns.  Although a Will becomes a matter of public record when it is probated, a separate trust document does not. Therefore, any specific distribution terms in a trust are not made public.  In most instances, a trust is named after the person or persons who established it and/or the intended beneficiaries of the trust.  Usually, this makes it easier for the family to quickly reference the trust, to generally understand the intended beneficiaries, and to list it as a beneficiary on beneficiary-designated assets, if applicable.  However, as you can imagine, the “Matthew Perry Trust”, or any accounts named after it, may raise a few eyebrows.  In Matthew’s case, he went with an unconventional name for his trust, the “Alvy Singer Living Trust”, taken from the name of Woody Allen’s character in the movie “Annie Hall”.  In this case, however, if Matthew was aiming for a bit more privacy with this trust titling, the unusual name may have had the opposite effect, as the trust name has been widely circulated for its uniqueness.  For us non-celebrities, the most important factor in naming a trust is ensuring it is not confused with another trust established by the same individuals.  Creating distinct titles helps to ensure assets are not inadvertently titled in the name of the wrong trust, which could have a completely different purpose and distribution scheme.

If you would like to discuss establishing an estate plan for the first time or updating an existing plan, please call our office at 856-489-8388 or visit us on our website at to schedule an appointment.

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