Joan Rivers Covered Her $290 Million Bases, Leaving Space for the Intangibles

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Joan Rivers went out at the top of her game, leaving behind what the wealth rankings estimate is around $290 million for her heirs. From all accounts, settling the estate will be relatively easy. Daughter Melissa probably gets just about everything. But the details can make a huge difference, and it’s clear from the chatter about funeral arrangements that Joan was detail-oriented to the end.

Now that the funeral is over, the only mission-critical issues left on the table revolve around whether her medical team was paying as much attention as her estate planners. It’s close to an optimal scenario, but the details definitely matter with a fortune this big and a star this bright. Let’s hit them one by one.

Cutting through the jokes

As Joan said, “yes, Melissa, everything’s in your name.” Barring what looks like a “small” pet trust or other arrangement to care for Joan’s two dogs, that sounds like every cent actually does go to Melissa. There weren’t any divorce settlements or blended families to worry about. Joan never remarried after the legendary Edgar killed himself in 1987, and grandson Cooper is too young to inherit in his own name. That makes things really simple. Maybe there’s a philanthropic bequest or two, but it doesn’t sound like it. As a result, Melissa was free to concentrate on the funeral arrangements without having to worry about money-hungry relatives crawling out of the woodwork.

It’s pretty close to an ideal outcome, and while those arrangements sound fantastic, the ceremony also demonstrates that there’s a wide gap between Joan’s throwaway gags and the estate planning wishes she laid down in private.

Joan joked about some kind of gala open casket viewing with wind machines, the best make-up in human history, a buffet spread. All those laugh lines made it into the program, but the real event was invitation-only, with bagpipes, show tunes and a red carpet. Every detail seems planned out to focus on what would have made her happy.

And the details of what “in your name” entails might be no joke at all. The ultra-luxury Manhattan triplex apartment looks like it was still Joan’s property even though she had been halfheartedly trying to sell it over the last few years.

She was, after all, president of the condo board and listed on public records as the owner. Truly transferring ownership of the property to Melissa would have subjected her to the capital gain on what might turn into a $25 million to $30 million sale.


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