Burning Question: What Will Happen to Cory Monteith’s Estate?

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With the death of Cory Monteith, I've been wondering: Do such young and seemingly healthy actors usually have a will? — G.K. Boo, Gary, Indiana

Oftentimes, yeah.

"In general, people that age don't think about estate planning," says Brian Berman, associate in Greenberg Glusker's Family/Strategic Wealth Planning Group. "The thinking is that you only need to do that when you have a ton of money or kids or a wife and a house.

"But for people in the entertainment business, there's a little more of a chance; hopefully even younger actors have good advisers around them," such as a business manager or attorney.

And in general, stars seem to prefer trustees over wills. The reason? Wills tend to be executed in a more public manner, something many stars don’t want, while pricier trusts distribute assets according to the late actor’s wishes with minimal public fuss, Berman says.

Ergo, Whitney Houston established a trust before her unexpected and tragic death at age 48, leaving a trustee to handle the distribution of the singer's estimated $20 million fortune to her daughter, Bobbi Kristina. Trusts don't automatically guarantee family harmony — just ask the family of the late Michael Jackson — but when they run smoothly, they afford loved ones another layer of peace and privacy.

It's not immediately clear what will happen to Monteith's assets and earnings; a request to his spokeswoman wasn't immediately returned. However, don't be surprised if, despite his youthful age of 31, he did have a plan in place for his estate.

In fact, with his generous income — likely in the high five figures per "Glee" episode — it's more probable that Monteith arranged a trust as well.

Now, in the event that Monteith did not leave any kind of written instructions for the handling of his assets, don't be shocked if girlfriend Lea Michele walks away with nothing; laws in this arena tend to be pretty specific.

"What happens is, if they had a spouse, the assets go to the spouse," attorney Irwin Feinberg of the firm Feinberg Mindel Brandt & Klein explains. "If not, if there are children, the estate goes to the children. Otherwise, it would all go to the parents, and if there are no parents, it's divided equally among siblings.

"Girlfriends don't count."

If he died without a will, that could cause Monteith's friends and family years of pain and legal fees. Amy Winehouse didn't have one when she died; her parents had to claim her millions in assets after her death. And the lack of a will following the sudden death of Jimi Hendrix spurred decades of family fighting over the assets, which continue to generate income through publicity rights and music royalties.

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