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How Steve Jobs used trusts to effectively keep his estate private

When a person dies, all the assets that are in that person's name must be transferred to a living person. In New Jersey, this is typically done in the probate process. When estate planning documents are completed before a person dies, it can help ensure the process moves smoothly.

Wills and trusts are both used in the estate planning process, but they have different purposes. For someone as well-known and wealthy as Steve Jobs, trusts can help ensure his assets are not made public.

According to a recent article on Reuters, Steve Jobs and his wife put at least three properties into trusts in 2009. One estate planning lawyer who was interviewed said, "Placing stock and real estate into trusts can both minimize estate taxes upon a person's death, and keep assets from being publicly disclosed in probate court."

In fact, if the trusts were completed correctly, the details about the value of Jobs' properties may never be made public -- which is probably exactly what Jobs was hoping for.

In September 2011, Forbes Magazine estimated Jobs' total wealth at approximately $7 billion. That sum included the three properties that were put into trusts, as well as his Disney shares. When Jobs sold Pixar to Disney in 2006, he acquired roughly 138 million Disney shares.

Given the private nature of trusts, it will likely be impossible for most outsiders to know the value of what was left in trusts and to whom it was given.

Source: Reuters, "Steve Jobs put real estate in trust in 2009: records," Dan Levine, Oct. 6, 2011

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