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Lakers' owner left team to kids, lesson for Washington families

Washington's basketball fans were no doubt familiar with Jerry Buss, the much-loved owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, who died recently at age 80. Many athletes and sports professionals have recently eulogized Buss as an innovator and a great businessman who grew his empire from a $1,000 investment into a $1 billion sports franchise.

One part of Buss' story that has been less well-reported has been his wisdom as an estate planner. Buss set up a family trust that will keep the Lakers under the control of his six children.

Buss earned a Ph.D. in chemistry at age 24 and pursued careers in real estate and aerospace before getting into sports. He began his career in real estate development with a $1,000 investment in a Los Angeles apartment building. His partner in the investment was a co-worker. He built on that investment until he was able to buy both the Lakers and the Los Angeles Kings hockey team, along with the stadium in which both teams played. The Lakers are now estimated to be worth $1 billion, making it the second most valuable team in the NBA.

In recent years, as Buss battled cancer, he left many business decisions to his son Jim, who oversees personnel issues for Lakers players. His daughter Jeanie runs the business side of the Lakers operation. In fact, all of Buss' six children have worked for the Lakers and the trust is designed to keep the franchise in the family.

A trust is an instrument that allows families to preserve assets as well as avoid the expensive and cumbersome probate process. Trusts are not just for the wealthy, but can also be a beneficial tool for middle-income families.

A living trust is drawn up when a person is alive and allows that person to control his or her assets. There are different kinds of trust arrangements, suited to different families' needs.

Few families have anything like Buss' real estate and sports empires. However, many families can benefit from avoiding probate. A family trust or other methods of estate planning can help a family preserve its assets for future generations.

Source: The Seattle Times, "Jerry Buss, Lakers' flamboyant owner, dies at 80," Greg Beacham, Feb. 19, 2013

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