Jeffrey Epstein’s sudden suicide shocked some people earlier this month, but what may be raising more eyebrows is the timing of his will execution.
Epstein, a convicted pedophile, was awaiting trial in a Manhattan federal jail cell on charges of conspiracy and trafficking minors for sex when he allegedly hanged himself on Aug. 10.
It was later reported that Epstein finalized a will only two days prior. He placed his $578 million in assets into a trust and named his lawyers executors of the trust, which could be problematic for individuals seeking damages against him posthumously.
The biggest issue surrounding the circumstances of Epstein’s draft of his will is the timing.
“It is unusual to sign a will two days before you die,” Bruce Steiner, an attorney at Kleinberg, Kaplan Wolff & Cohen, told InvestmentNews.
The will can be signed at any time before someone’s death — even minutes before — as long as the proper formalities are taken. But attorneys told InvestmentNews that there could be an issue surrounding Epstein’s “testamentary capacity,” or his legal and mental ability to create a valid document.
“If he was so depressed to have killed himself, was he in the proper state of mind to write a new will?” Martin Shenkman, founder of Shenkman Law, said in an interview with InvestmentNews.
While a court could invalidate the document with evidence confirming Epstein’s weakened mental state, it is fairly easy to meet the capacity standard. Epstein would only have to know who he was, what he owned and who he wanted to give his assets to, according to Steiner, who argues it would be easy to prove if there were any witnesses present during the will’s signing.
Another potential issue lies in the realm of fraudulent conveyance rules. States use these rules to prevent people from transferring assets to protect themselves — and their things — from creditors.
“If it wasn’t for that, no one would be able to collect on anybody,” Richard Behrendt, an estate planning attorney, told InvestmentNews.
The Epstein case is far from over, and his alleged victims, who spoke in a hearing Tuesday, will likely turn to filing civil claims for damages against his estate. Prosecutors may also pursue specific charges that force criminal forfeiture actions.
Creditors could also file a fraud claim, and they have a year after a transfer is complete to consider it. And with Epstein signing his will so close to his own death, they may have a good chance of a case being successful, according to InvestmentNews.