Probate, Privacy, and Intent

If you’ve been reading our blog for any length of time, you know that precious little of what happens in Probate Court is private. Look at it this way, it it was we wouldn’t have enough material for one blog, never mind dozens.

(Photo credit should read STF/AFP/Getty Images)

Probate matters are mostly public and that’s why the media has been able to report, over and over again, the provisions of Jerry Lewis’ will. Lewis died at 91 in August of heart failure. His will was entered into probate just a couple of weeks ago. It quickly made the news because of one provision:

I have intentionally excluded GARY LEWIS, RONALD LEWIS, ANTHONY JOSEPH LEWIS, CHRISTOPHER JOSEPH LEWIS, SCOTT ANTHONY LEWIS and JOSEPH CHRISTOPHER LEWIS and their descendants as beneficiaries of my estate, it being my intention to that they shall receive no benefits hereunder.

Jerry Lewis, the guy who held decades of Labor Day Telethons for “Jerry’s Kids” disowned his in his will. Actually, he disowned the children f his first marriage which had ended in divorce in 1980 after 34 years. He left his estate, estimated at $50 million to his second wife and their adopted daughter.

It’s rare to see this in such a high profile matter – and one would have to assume that Jerry Lewis knew his will would be of interest to his considerable following. We would normally expect that someone like Lewis would use a will to leave everything to a trust, the provisions of the trust then being private.

But he didn’t and the whole world knows. Perhaps he wanted it that way. In any event, it appears the probate process will be fairly quick here, his intent couldn’t be clearer. By using ‘intentionally excluded’ he’s left no doubts. He even including a son who had predeceased him, just to insure that his descendants would also be excluded.

Reams have been written about intent in the probate process. Intent is a highly litigated area. Intent is certainly not going to be a problem in Lewis’ probate.