What we know about Jeffrey Epstein's will, and what happens next with his estate

By Brian Pascus

/ CBS News

Epstein estate sued by 3 more alleged victims

Two days before he died in what was ruled a suicide in a Manhattan jail cell, Jeffrey Epstein signed a will that put all of his holdings into a trust. The will, filed in the U.S. Virgin Islands and obtained by CBS News, is a "pour-over will" that transfers, or pours over, all of Epstein's vast assets into a private trust. The trust is secret, not open to the public, and is administered by trustees. Epstein's will, which is a public document, claimed assets of more than $577 million.

None of that money can transfer into Epstein's trust until a probate court, which exclusively handles the distribution of estates and other family matters, decides what to do with the multiple claims that have been made against Epstein and his estate. Earlier this week, three more alleged victims filed lawsuits against the convicted sex offender's estate.

There is also the issue of Epstein's domicile — his legal place of residence — which is listed in his will as the U.S. Virgin Islands, even though Epstein also had residences in New York, New Mexico, Florida and Paris.

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"This is one heck of a can of worms," a law professor, who did not want to be named in this story, told CBS News.

Below is a list of central questions that can help explain what happens next with Epstein's estate.

Why did Epstein create a trust?

The most important aspect of Epstein's will is that it was written to transfer his assets into a trust. "The 1953 Trust" — apparently named for the year of Epstein's birth — was established on August 8, 2019, the same day the will was drawn up and signed. The terms of Epstein's trust are stricken from public record. His estate will now be overseen by the two executors named in the will, attorneys Darren K. Indyke and Richard D. Kahn.

"The terms of the trust remain private because they are not part of the will itself," said Professor Gregory S. Alexander, who teaches property law at Cornell Law School. Alexander said Epstein's creation of the trust is commonly done by individuals concerned with privacy.

And while the will gives no word on beneficiaries, there are likely to be beneficiaries named in the trust. Had a will not been drawn up prior to his death, Epstein's brother, Mark, would have been entitled to his estate because he is Epstein's only known living heir.

"It raises eyebrows that the will and the trust were created just two days before he died," said Alexander. "It makes one think that he's contemplating his imminent death."

Why is the domicile important?

Perhaps most striking element about Epstein's will is that it lists his domicile — one's permanent residence — as St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Domicile is important in determining which jurisdiction controls the estate. One's domicile must be proven in a probate court, usually through tax returns, a drivers license, or documented time spent in specific jurisdictions.

"His claim that he is domiciled in the Virgin Islands can be litigated," said Stuart Sterk, a Cardozo Law professor at Yeshiva University in New York. "It's no guarantee that other states will guarantee that it's his domicile or that the Virgin Island courts will agree it is."

Others expect it to be less of an issue.

"My guess is he's been filing the Virgin Islands as his domicile for many, many years," said Professor Bridget J. Crawford, who teaches law at Pace University. "The IRS would be pretty silly to challenge that now."

Is the will even valid?

Another question surrounding Epstein's will is whether or not it will be deemed valid. Epstein's will, and thus his entire trust, can be deemed invalid if the will was not properly executed and if it wasn't properly witnessed or signed.

The will was signed by two witnesses, Mariel A. Colón Miró and Gulnora Tali, who are identified in a Bloomberg report as private attorneys. They did not respond to CBS News' request for comment.

"You need to make sure there was no fraud, no undue influence, no duress," Crawford told CBS News. "It is far from a given that Mr. Epstein possessed mental capacity."

Epstein's testamentary capacity — meaning a person's mental ability make a valid will or estate — will likely be determined by a probate judge. If the will or trust is voided, the assets would transfer to the beneficiary of the estate, his brother Mark Epstein, who would still be liable for creditors' claims and any alleged victims' lawsuits.

What about the victims' claims?

It is the claims against Epstein's estate that are now the main focus for investigators and victims alike. Epstein's $577 million in assets will not pass from his estate into his private trust until all creditors' claims have been satisfied in a probate court.

According to Section 2053 of Internal Revenue Code, the worth of Epstein's estate will only be taxed after all claims against the estate have been settled. Considering he's facing a growing number of lawsuits — including one reportedly seeking $100 million — there's a possibility the IRS will get nothing but the secured property taxes. The trust could be voided if there is nothing left to fund it.

But according to attorney Turney Berry, a nationally recognized expert on estate and business planning, the claims against Epstein's estate will be extremely complicated, and in some scenarios may lead to the government getting paid first. He also noted that the estate won't be easy to liquidate.

"Generally federal tax liens will take priority over tort claims, which is what I would assume are most of those that have been and would be filed against Mr. Epstein's estate," Berry told CBS News, adding that the IRS may force creditors to settle for less than what they seek. "You could expect lots of arguments as claimants jockey for position."

In all, legal experts anticipate a drawn-out and complex process for determining the future of Jeffrey Epstein's wealth.

"I am predicting 10 years or more before this estate closes," said Professor Crawford.

First published on August 21, 2019 / 4:58 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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