Most people would loose everything under the circumstances, but it wasn't just anybody being sued. The family settled for the insurance money.
Some years later this man's very stoic wife decided to call it quits. Years of his self centered lifestyle and philandering, alleged or documented, had driven her to her own crisis with the bottle. She got her divorce but next to nothing of the "family assets." A couple of sisters in law were widows of brothers of the Chappaquiddick driver. They had gotten little more than the insurance money and nothing of the family estate as well. One of the desperate widows subsequently married some Greek fellow for his money.
How could this be? Regular folk would have lost most of everything they had under similar circumstances. You already know who these people are, they are Kennedy's. Were Kennedy's above the law? Some think so, maybe even some Kennedys. Actually they benefitted from some of the most astute asset protection strategies ever produced, paid for by their father, family Patriarch Joseph Kennedy.
The trust Kennedy set up is still a "secret" but some aspects have been made known either by leaks, investigation or deduction. Since I have done none of those things I can only repeat some public understandings of the Kennedy approach. Its been alleged that the scheme cost Papa Joe over a Hundred Thousand Dollars in 1930's money. I wouldn't be surprised. From best information, the plan consisted of Spendthrift trusts for all Kennedy descendants. A spendthrift trust allows a trustee to distribute funds he deems appropriate for the beneficiary. He can make or reject claims for payment as he sees fit as all funds are held not by the Kennedy heirs but inside the trust for their "benefit."
According to what is known, Young Kennedy's have trustees appointed for them and thus little or no control of the underlying asset. After they reach a certain age they may choose one of the trustees gaining some influence over the spending. Older descendants would receive greater control of their "share" of the assets through the trustees. Homes, investments, businesses, accounts would all be inside the trust beyond the reach of creditors or even disgruntled wives.
Are all Kennedy assets truly safe? Hard to say. Theoretically having effective control over the trustee can result in an order by the court to the beneficiary (lawsuit looser)under threat of contempt to order his trustee(s) to distribute funds to pay the debt. Could the trustee then still refuse? Maybe, the trust documents and rules of equity would control. In any event, as far as we know, nobody has ever gotten so far either because they failed to win or just gave up because fighting was too complicated and costly.
That is the real lesson that anyone can take from living like a Kennedy. Everyone can make what you have much more complicated and costly to take away. It has been alleged that you could not create a Kennedy style trust today. Too expensive, perhaps, Illegal, maybe, but I don't think so. 2010 is the golden age of asset protection (Except as to taxes!). Delaware, Alaska, Nevada, Wyoming are bringing asset protection laws that rival those of foreign island havens like Nevis, the Bahamas, Isle of Mann, Cook Islands and the Republic of Tonga! Just one or two techniques will stop most claimants in their tracks the way Insurance won't. Everyone, even people not named Kennedy, can protect his family by using tried and true legal entities if you act long before a claim is brought against you. Being nice doesn't help. PREPARE!
PLAN PLAN PLAN, Implement the plan, live secure and with peace of mind.