I am a New York estate planning attorney and sometimes my clients can learn from celebrities.
Naomi Judd, the country icon, who died by suicide in April at age 76, appointed her husband Larry Strickland as the executor of her $25 million estate. According to a recent article titled “Why Naomi Judd may have cut Ashley Judd and Wynona Judd out of will” from yahoo! entertainment, there was no mention of her daughters in her will.
In addition to her husband of thirty-three years, Naomi Judd named her brother-in-law Reginald Strickland and Kris Wiatr, president of Wiatr & Associates, as co-executors, in the event her husband is unable to serve.
Ashley and Wynonna are not mentioned at all in the document. One news source reports that Wynonna was upset about being excluded from the will, since she believes she was a major force behinds Naomi’s success. For many years, Wynonna and Naomi performed together as The Judds. No comments were made to yahoo! entertainment’s request by representatives for either Ashley or Wynonna.
It’s common for spouses in a long-term marriage to leave all of their assets to their surviving partner. However, it’s also possible there were tax incentives involved.
The primary concern of the spouse is to be sure the surviving spouse has enough assets to live on comfortably, maintaining the same standard of living as they enjoyed during the decedent’s lifetime.
It’s also likely Naomi understood the burden of executing a complex estate valued at $25 million would be a big responsibility and one she didn’t want her daughters to take on, in addition to their own busy musical careers.
Taxes may have been Naomi’s other concern. With a federal tax exemption of $12,060,000 of total assets during life and after death, it makes sense to pass an estate twice that size to a spouse. It is also possible that Naomi had already given away the full federal exemption during her lifetime and giving the assets to her spouse would have been the only way to prevent estate taxes from being incurred until after his death.
An equally big question is, what happened to Naomi’s songwriting catalog? It’s likely Naomi was a half owner of the Judd's songwriting and performance rights. If they weren’t left to Wynonna, then Wynonna will own half the rights and Mr. Strickland will own the other half.
One last note: while a will becomes part of the public record when it is filed in court as part of probate, trusts remain private. If Naomi Judd sought to protect her personal financial business, she may have done so by transferring property through trusts or other means.
You don’t have to be a celebrity to protect your privacy with an estate plan incorporating trusts and other means of transferring assets. Speak with an estate planning attorney to protect your family and property.
Reference: yahoo! entertainment (Aug. 2, 2022) “Why Naomi Judd may have cut Ashley Judd and Wynona Judd out of will”
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