NEW YORK • Financier Jeffrey Epstein signed a will just two days before he killed himself in jail, court records show, opening a new legal front in what could be a long battle over the multi-millionaire's fortune.
Court papers filed last week in the US Virgin Islands list no details of beneficiaries but valued the estate at more than US$577 million (S$800 million), including more than US$56 million in cash.
The existence of the will, first reported by the New York Post, raised new questions about Epstein's final days inside the Metropolitan Correctional Centre, where he was awaiting trial.
Epstein was arrested on July 6 and had pleaded not guilty to federal charges of sex trafficking involving dozens of underage girls as young as 14. He died on Aug 10 in his jail cell, and an autopsy report released last Friday concluded that he had hanged himself.
Epstein signed the will on Aug 8. Less than 48 hours later, he was found dead in his cell, prompting an investigation that has cast a harsh light on staff shortages at the Manhattan detention centre.
On Monday, US Attorney-General William Barr shook up the leadership at the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), removing its acting chief, following Epstein's suicide.
Dr Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, a veteran of the BOP, will return to the agency to serve as its director, Mr Barr said. He named another former agency official, Dr Thomas Kane, to serve as her deputy.
"During this critical juncture, I am confident Dr Hawk Sawyer and Dr Kane will lead BOP with the competence, skill and resourcefulness they have embodied throughout their government careers," Mr Barr said in a statement.
Also on Monday, prosecutors moved to dismiss the indictment against Epstein but have said they are considering charging others with facilitating his alleged abuse of dozens of girls.
The filing of the will, meanwhile, had been closely followed by lawyers representing women who claim they were sexually abused by Epstein when they were teenagers and recruited into his residences to provide him massages. Several attorneys vowed to go after his assets, even if the will had named beneficiaries, as Epstein's death means there will be no trial on the criminal charges against him.
One woman filed suit against the estate last week, claiming Epstein repeatedly raped her when she was a teenager.
Former federal prosecutor David Weinstein, who is now in private practice in Miami but not involved in the Epstein case, said states and US territories have certain time frames within which to make a claim against someone's estate. "There are going to be a lot of lawyers involved," he said. "It's not going to be over any time soon."
A hedge fund manager who hobnobbed with the rich and famous, Epstein owned a Caribbean island, homes in Paris and New York City, a New Mexico ranch and a fleet of expensive cars. He had more than US$112 million worth of equities, according to the will, and nearly US$200 million in "hedge funds and private equity investments". Among the properties that will be subject to valuation are his collection of fine arts and antiques.
As part of his 2008 plea deal to Florida state charges, Epstein made undisclosed financial settlements with dozens of his victims. It is unclear how those settlements might affect claims made on his estate.
Mr William Blum, an attorney for the late financier's estate, said in a statement to the Associated Press that any debts or claims against the estate will be "fairly administered".
He said the document was Epstein's original last will.
ASSOCIATED PRESS, REUTERS