A Lesson From Penn State Coach Joe Paterno’s Death


The news remains on a negative cycle for those affiliated with Penn State University.  First, Joe Paterno’s firing in November of 2011, then comes his unexpected death in January 2012, and latest has been the conviction of Jerry Sandusky, longtime assistant Coach to Joe Paterno.  It has been a tumultuous seven months for the University and its supporters, but could it have been worse?

What did Joe Paterno really know?  Did he reveal the truth in his Last Will and Testament?  Speculation ran ramped.  In a story dated June 10, 2012, it was reported that, that in a peculiar twist to the probate process, the Last Will and Testament of Joe Paterno was to be sealed, a measure striking many probate attorneys as odd.  As many of you may know, the filing of probate is a public process.  Whether you are an average person, or a Hollywood star, the general rule is that the probate process is public and transparent.  Only on the rarest occasion is the probate process sealed from the public.

Amid the increased public scrutiny, on June 15, 2012, the Paterno family petitioned the Court to unseal the probate documents.  In the end, there were no scathing details or scandalous admissions.  Joe Paterno’s residuary Estate was distributed to a Trust, the details of which, by law, are private.

In Maryland, the law is similar.  The probate process is transparent no matter who you are.  So, one seeking privacy as to their final affairs should seek to create a Revocable Trust to hold the residuary of their Estate.  Secrets as to wealth and disposition of assets can be shielded from public knowledge by the creation of a Trust instrument.

Joe Paterno, like many of us, executed a Last Will and Testament that lacked anything worth publication on ESPN, or in the public eye.  Here, the family sought simply privacy to grieve the loss of their loved one.  This again is best accomplished by the creation of a Revocable Trust instrument to avoid the probate process for those assets wanting to be kept out of the public eye.  In the end, with the documents unsealed, Joe Paterno had the last word rather than the media.  However, through good planning, his wishes, as a private man, were honored because the majority of his lasting financial legacy will be private through the administration of his Revocable Trust.

 –  Gary Altman, Esq. and Adam Abramowitz, Esq.

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