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Railroad millionaire's estate valued at more than $270 million

To write a will is to consider very private matters such as personal finances, family relationships, one's hopes for the future and, of course, one's own mortality. However, once a will goes to probate court, under Washington law, it typically becomes public information. This public airing of private information can make many people uncomfortable.

Recently in another state, a judge refused to seal the will left behind by the late railroad entrepreneur R.J. Corman when he died in August after a long battle with cancer. With an estimated value of more than $270 million, Corman's estate is one of the largest ever to go through probate court in his home state.

Corman's will, executed last year, includes references to many of the investment and inventory holdings of the company that bore his name, R.J. Corman Railroad Group LLC. Managers of the business had asked the judge to keep these references sealed so as not to provide private information to the company's competitors, but the judge refused.

The public release of the will shows that Corman gave large bequests to relatives, including cars and a Rolex watch given to his adult children. The will also provides that many of the companies that he owned or controlled will now fall under the control of a trust designed to ensure that they continue.

While Corman's wealth was unusual, the public release of his will does illustrate concepts that can be relevant to many people in Washington. By some estimates, about 70 percent of Americans die without leaving behind a valid will. When this happens, state law chooses an estate plan for them, and it may lead to results the deceased would not have wanted. A will is part of a simple and effective estate plan that can ensure the well-being of one's family, and it gives Washington residents a welcome sense of control over their own legacy.

Source: Lexington Herald-Leader, "R.J. Corman estate worth an estimated $270 million, court documents say," Greg Kocher, Dec. 3, 2013

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