On Feb. 1, 2013, New York City lost a political icon.  Edward I. Koch, who served as mayor of New York City from 1978 through 1989, died of heart failure.  After a period of mourning, estate planning geeks almost certainly began to wonder—as they do every time a high-profile individual dies—what’s in Ed Koch's Will?  That question has now been answered, though some additional questions have been raised.

As for answers, Koch's Will has been filed with the New York County Surrogate's Court and is a public record for all to see.  To summarize the Will:

  • He instructs his executor to have him buried at the Trinity Church Cemetery in New York City.
  • He leaves certain photographs and other memorabilia to the New-York Historical Society, pursuant to an agreement of gift entered into by him in September 2000.
  • He leaves all other tangible personal property to his sister, Pat Thaler.  In addition, Koch gives his sister $500,000.
  • He gives $100,000 to his long-time secretary, Mary Garrigan, who worked with him for nearly forty years.  Ms. Garrigan was, perhaps, Koch's most trusted confidant and, by all accounts, knew more about Koch's life than anyone else.
  • He gives $50,000 to each of his late brother's wife, Gail Koch, his nephew, Andrew Koch, and his niece, Joey Koch.
  • Koch leaves the balance of his estate, estimated to be around $10 million, to the issue of his sister Pat Thaler (she has three sons), in equal shares, per stirpes.

At first blush, Koch's Will appears to be a well-thought-out plan to carry out his wishes in a relatively simple and efficient manner.  Koch was the kind of person one presumes put a lot of thought into his Will—his final public statement.

There are a couple of questions that can be asked about Koch's estate plan.  First, why did he have a Will as his primary dispositive instrument, rather than a revocable (or living) trust?  Typically, one would expect that a high-profile individual, such as Koch, would prioritize the privacy of his personal affairs—especially the most personal affair of disposing of his estate.  If Koch had a typical "pour-over" Will, the public record would consist of a document giving the entirety of the estate to a "revocable trust."  In that case, there would have been no public record of who benefited from Koch's estate because the terms of the revocable trust wouldn’t have become part of the public record.  Then again, Koch was never shy of publicity and, perhaps, wanted his Will to become public record.

Second, why did Ed Koch leave his residuary estate outright to his sister's sons, rather than in lifetime trusts for their benefit?  By creating lifetime trusts, all or part of the assets left in trust for his nephews might have avoided being taxed in their respective estates at their deaths.  In addition, lifetime trusts would afford some degree of asset protection for Koch's nephews.  Perhaps Koch wanted the disposition of his estate to be as simple as possible and wasn’t concerned with saving additional estate taxes upon a nephew's death or with asset protection.

What isn’t evident from reading Koch's Will is what estate planning he might have done during his lifetime.  The public record doesn’t tell us whether Koch created lifetime trusts during his lifetime and what other gifts he might have made, if any, to his loved ones.  Certainly any planning implemented by Koch during his lifetime would have affected how he ultimately crafted his Will.

All in all, Ed Koch's Will provides a snapshot of his most cherished personal relationships and the manner in which he wished to benefit those individuals.