Today, closing arguments are being held in the jury trial of accused sex offender Jerry Sandusky. His former boss, legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, has created intrigue in an unrelated legal matter. Paterno’s family sought court protection to seal Paterno’s will from public disclosure. After a local newspaper filed a motion to unseal the will, Paterno’s family made public his 1997 will and 2010 codicil to the will.
After reviewing the contents to the will and the codicil, there is nothing surprising or notable about their contents. The family’s efforts to seal the testamentary documents seem unreasonable and misguided. Typically, wills must be lodged with the county court or probate department before the decedent’s assets may be distributed. Paterno’s will is a pour-over will meaning it directs any probate assets to be poured over to a revocable living trust. Most likely, the Paterno revocable living trust specifies the distribution of Paterno’s assets.
A revocable living trust is advantageous because you do not need to lodge the trust with the court. The administration of the trust and distribution of the estate can take place outside of public review and records. In addition, with advances in medicine and technology, individuals are living beyond their ability to manage their financial affairs. Revocable living trusts allow successor trustees to take over and manage the financial affairs of those suffering from diminished capacity.
Living trusts are only effective insofar as you title the assets properly. Your assets should be titled in the name of the trust. The Paterno will, a pour-over will, acts as a backstop in the event that an asset is not titled properly in the name of the trust. Any asset that is not transferred into a living trust must pass through probate first prior to its distribution. Oddly, the Paterno family has not filed a petition to initiate a probate of any assets. The family efforts to seal the will and codicil appear unnecessary and unusual. As with the Sandusky trial, the Paterno will story may end this week. Or, future court proceedings may loom ahead.