Elizabeth Edwards, the estranged wife of former Vice-President Candidate John Edwards, passed away from cancer on December 7, 2010 at the age of 61. A mere 6 days before she died, Elizabeth created a new will … one that didn’t mention her husband, even once.
Who can blame her? After all, John first denied — then admitted to — having an affair, which produced a child, whom he first denied — but then admitted — was his.
Many media reports about this will say that John was cut out completely and Elizabeth left everything to her children. This isn’t entirely true.
In reality, Elizabeth left everything except her personal property to a revocable living trust she created, the Anania Edwards Trust (“Anania” was her maiden name). Because trusts, unlike wills, are private documents, we don’t know for certain who the beneficiaries of her trust are.
But, it’s safe to assume John isn’t one of them. On the other hand, he could change that. Spouses in North Carolina, as in most other states, have the right to claim a share of their deceased spouse’s estate, even if they are left out, even if they are separated, and even if they had a well-publicized affair.
One would think that John wouldn’t make such a claim, considering Elizabeth’s probate documents list assets in her name to be under $1.5 million. John, on the other hand, listed his personal fortune at between $29.5 and $62 million in a 2006 public disclosure he filed.
If Elizabeth had funded her trust with assets, it’s possible that the $1.5 million is only a portion of her total assets. Again, whatever is in her trust would be kept private.
John will have some involvement though. Because two of the children are minors, Elizabeth’s probate paperwork lists their addresses in care of John Edwards. You can download and read the Probate Form and Elizabeth’s will, here.
Will John try to have a greater involvement in the estate and trust of Elizabeth Edwards by filing for an elective share as the spouse, potentially allowing him to receive up to half of her assets? We’ll find out within the next six months or so.
Until then, it’s worth pointing out that Elizabeth was smart to create a revocable living trust and keep at least some of her affairs private after she passed. One can only wonder if she ran out of time before passing away, so that she was unable to transfer the rest of her assets into her trust, which would have allowed her family to avoid probate court entirely.
By Andrew W. Mayoras and Danielle B. Mayoras, co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! (www.TrialandHeirs.com) and husband-and-wife legacy expert attorneys. As educators across the United States through speaking engagements, print, broadcast, and social media, Danielle and Andrew consistently draw rave reviews and are in high demand. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find us on Facebook!