Just two days before accused multimillionaire sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein died in his jail cell this month, reportedly by suicide, he signed a will. That will could make it difficult for his alleged victims to get any money in lawsuits against his estate. The 66-year-old had pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy and sex trafficking of minors.
In Epstein's will, he reportedly placed most of his fortune (at least $577 million of it) in a private trust. No beneficiaries were listed. Experts say that by setting up this trust, information about his vast financial holdings may never be made public, and those with civil claims against him may be out of luck -- or at least in for a long fight.
However, because the will, which was filed in the Virgin Islands, was signed so soon before Epstein's death, it's possible that his assets might not have been completely transferred into the trust while he was alive. Also, as one law professor notes, it's possible that the transfer of his assets to this trust could be considered "fraudulent" because of the criminal charges pending against him. Further, she says that "a probate court in the Virgin Islands isn't going to allow a dime to go out of that estate….until the claims are settled, so this thing is going to be tied up for years."
A Texas Tech University law professor, who specializes in estate planning, agrees. He says, "It could take many, many years before anybody gets a penny of this, and it all depends, too, on how much the executors want to fight it."
Epstein settled multiple lawsuits with accusers during his life. More women came forward after his death.
An attorney for several of the women said, "We're representing the interests of victims who were abused at one level, and now feel as though there's a second level of mistreatment in the untimely and unfair death of the person who had originally abused them." An attorney representing several other accusers says that at this point, the money "is the only justice they can get."
Many people seek to set up trusts to protect their heirs from creditors and lawsuits. However, there are many cases in which that won't work. It's wise to discuss your goals for your trust with your estate planning attorney.