Young Frankenstein and the Golden Ticket

Jackie Bedard
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Attorney, Author, and Founder of Carolina Family Estate Planning
Gene Wilder was a wonderful actor and comedian. His movies Young Frankenstein and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory endeared him to millions of fans. His death at age 83 made headlines worldwide.

Wilder's quirky looks and even quirkier sense of humor made him stand out among Hollywood stars. He once said that he liked the "show" in show business but did not like the "business" of show business. 

He stopped making movies at age 58, though he did make occasional television appearances. His last role was a small reoccurring part from 2002-03 on NBC's Will & Grace, for which he won an Emmy award for outstanding guest actor. 

It's notable that while Wilder had not starred in a major film in 25 years, his surviving family received a huge outpouring of support from his longtime fans.

Another victim of Alzheimer's

Wilder's death has been attributed to Alzheimer's disease. According to his family, he wanted to keep his diagnosis quiet until after his death. Depending on where and what you read, he left an estate valued around $20 million. 

Many may be wondering who will inherit the bulk of Wilder's estate. He lost his third wife, famous actress and comedian Gilda Radner, to ovarian cancer in 1989. After her death, he founded "Gilda's Club" in Manhattan to support cancer patients and their families. 

Wilder raised money and lobbied Congress for funding to support ovarian cancer research. He was such an advocate for cancer issues that many speculated he would leave his estate to causes that fight the disease. 

If he had decided to support cancer research, there are estate planning techniques that Wilder might have employed, such as charitable lead trusts and charitable remainder trusts. These strategies would have allowed Wilder, as grantor, to support charities he cared about after his death and still provide benefits for family members at a reduced transfer tax cost.

Remarriage and estrangements

However, most miss the fact that Wilder remarried and had been married to a fourth wife, Karen Boyer, for 25 years until his death. Consequently, she will more than likely have the spousal right to up to a third of his estate. But, this is just speculation. 

Any conversation about planning is a tough conversation. While Wilder had an adopted daughter, Katherine, from his second marriage, they reportedly were estranged. 

To us, Wilder seemed like a thoughtful and caring man, and so we are confident that he did some careful planning for his family. Our hope is that he did the smart thing - created a living trust to keep his wishes and instructions private. In any respect, we will miss his whimsical humor and hope for the best for his loved ones. 

To read more about common estate planning issues and blunders, check out our free guide, Estate Planning Pitfalls: The 12 Most Common Threats to Your Estate and Your Family's Future. We hope this information is useful to you and your families. If you have a specific case or a question, don't hesitate to call our office at 919-443-3035 or contact us here.