Will of Anthony Bourdain could be open to legal dispute

A trust was established for the celebrity chef's daughter, but his ex-wife could claim a third of the estate if their divorce wasn't finalized

Jul 9, 2018 @ 2:21 pm

By Ryan W. Neal

Details from Anthony Bourdain's will reveal the celebrity chef, television personality and author may not have been as wealthy as many believed and his estate could be vulnerable to a legal dispute.

According to documents filed Thursday with the Manhattan Surrogate's Court, the star's estate was worth $1.21 million, the New York Daily News reported. This includes $425,000 in savings and cash, $35,000 in brokerage money, $250,000 in personal property and $500,000 in "intangible property including royalties and residuals." Mr. Bourdain was estimated to be worth as much as $16 million.

The will establishes a trust and designates Mr. Bourdain's 11-year-old daughter, Ariane Busia-Bourdain, as the primary beneficiary. The trust will distribute assets when she is 25 and 30, and Ms. Busia-Bourdain will receive access to the balance when she turns 35, USA Today reported.

A guardian will be picked by the court to safeguard the inheritance since Ms. Busia-Bourdain is still a minor.

Trusts that pay out over time are common for young beneficiaries to ensure they don't get overwhelmed by receiving a large inheritance all at once, said Alexander Rupert, associate portfolio manager at Laurel Tree Advisors. This could give her "a better chance of being strategic in the planning and utilization of money."

But Keith Singer, owner and president of Singer Wealth Management, doesn't agree with staged withdrawals because the assets are vulnerable to creditors and mismanagement once distributed.

"When I draft my trusts, the beneficiary can already benefit from the assets that are in there," Mr. Singer said. "Inside the trust you can make virtually any investment the trust allows and most trusts have very broad investment authority. Also, with most trusts the beneficiary can get all the income each year and even access to the principal for a wide variety of reasons."

Mr. Singer would have advised Mr. Bourdain to create a livable trust rather than a testamentary trust to avoid the time-consuming and public probate process.

Mr. Bourdain named his estranged wife, Ottavia Busia-Bourdain, as his executor and left her "personal and household effects" including cars, furniture, books and frequent flier miles.

If reports are accurate that Mr. Bourdain never finalized his divorce from Ottavia, she may be eligible for elective share of the assets even if the will largely left her out, said Michael Whitty, partner at Handley Thayer.

"This is not the worst celebrity estate plan reported, but it's far from perfect," Mr. Whitty said. "If the assets passing to daughter Ariane are this substantial (or more substantial), I would have recommended a discretionary trust for Ariane for life with flexible distribution provisions so that the money could be distributed when really needed, but until then preserved within the trust and protected from divorce and from most creditors."

Ottavia could receive as much as a third of Mr. Bourdain's estate if she elects, Mr. Singer said.

The filings reportedly do not list the Manhattan condo Mr. Bourdain purchased in 2014 with his then-wife, but do indicate a $1 million mortgage liability for an unspecified property.

Mr. Bourdain was found dead in a French hotel room on June 8. He was traveling to film his CNN show "Parts Unknown." Public prosecutors determined suicide to be the cause of death.

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