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Estate Planning

A Look at the Estate Plan of Filmmaker Mike Nichols


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Legendary filmmaker Mike Nichols passed away in November, 2014 of a heart attack.  The well-known and respected artist, producer and director was 83 years old and was survived by his wife Diane Sawyer and three children.

Many knew Nichols for directing The Graduate starring Dustin Hoffman.  Yet the prolific movie director had several other notable films under his belt including Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?Catch-22The Birdcage and his final film, Charlie Wilson’s War.   Additionally, during his lifetime, Nichols received an Academy award, a Grammy award, four Emmy awards and nine Tony awards.

When the iconic director passed away, Nichols’ estate was reportedly worth $20 million.  While fans around the world mourned the loss of one of film’s most revered directors, many have wondered if Nichols had a sound estate plan in place, especially after the deaths of Philip Seymour Hoffman and James Gandolfini—two celebrities who made some glaring estate planning mistakes.

As details start to emerge about the late filmmakers’ estate,

it seems that he was in fact a savvy estate planner.  His estimated $20 million fortune was left to his wife Diane Sawyer and three children.  Since Mike and Diane cherished their privacy, Mike went through great lengths to keep his assets and property away from the public eye.  What is known from his will, which was filed in the Manhattan Surrogate’s Court, is that he left all tangible property including home furnishings, automobiles, boats, jewelry, pictures, clothing and other art to Diane.

Additionally, Nichols’ left a J.F. Herring painting titled “Horse with Groom” to his son Max Nichols.  Mike Nichols’ will, which was filed last May, explains that the rest of the filmmaker’s fortunate will go into a private trust.  Court documents show that Diane Sawyer, Max and Nichols’ two daughters are beneficiaries of the fund, but it does not detail how the money will be divided.

Nichols should be applauded for the way he handled his estate plan for a few reasons.

First, by creating a private trust, he ensured that his legacy and how it was divided would remain private (or as private as possible given the investigative prowess and commitment of today’s journalists).  Second, Nichols appointed his wife, Diane Sawyer, as the overseer of his estate.  Also, Nichols signed his estate less than a year before his death.  Many people make the mistake of creating a will early on in their life and then never touch the document again.  An estate plan is not a rigid structure.  Rather it should change with your life and remain as current as possible up until your death.

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