Anthony Bourdain’s Relatively Modest Net Worth Keeps Likely Estate Plan Simple

People think 16 years on television translate into a vast fortune. Odds are good the material wealth he left behind was on the low side by celebrity standards — easy enough to pass on.

By celebrity chef standards, Anthony Bourdain was never really a huge star. Estimates of his “net worth” online top out around $12 million.

Those estimates are usually a transparent guess on career earning power, not the amount of wealth someone actually accumulates outside everyday living expenses. At best they’re the start of a comparison, a sliding scale of success.

But even on those terms, Bourdain might have grossed as much in his lifetime as once-super-hot chefs like Paula Deen and Emeril Lagasse still rake in every year. 

And he was a long, long way from the rarefied ranks of the entrepreneurs. There was no licensed line of spatulas, no chain of restaurants. Jamie Oliver is 20 years younger and according to the sliding scale, easily worth $200 million more.

Bourdain started early enough but his career was full of right-angle turns. By the time he settled down in television, he was as old as Jamie Oliver is now, more author than empire builder.

Naturally that was the life his choices and priorities created for him. Watch him for five minutes and it’s clear he was never motivated by building a dynastic fortune.

But as we’ve seen, comparisons can contribute to depression, especially as we get older. Enough false starts and side tracks early on almost guarantee that we’ll never be Wolfgang Puck.

Of course lifetime earnings of $12 million is still ultra-high-net-worth territory and Bourdain was at the top of his game when he died — a classic late bloomer career.

Here, too, the scale wasn’t stratospheric. He didn’t own his shows and seems to have made little effort to develop them into properties that would generate a lot of cash flow.

Filming in exotic locations with fairly large travel crews got expensive. Ratings were good, margins were thin. It happens. 

Maybe he gave a third of what was left to the IRS and spent another third. That would leave the estate holding around $4 million, which is roughly the value of the apartment he bought with his second wife. 

Was most of the net worth tied up in the home? Maybe. The good news from an estate planning perspective is that he doesn’t seem to have ever finalized the divorce.

She probably would’ve gotten the house in the settlement. Unless there was an ultra-secret legal separation, she probably gets it as her spousal inheritance. And she’s entitled to as much of the residual income, copyrights on the books and publicity rights as qualify as marital property in New York.

Whatever he had was hers. She can use it to give their daughter the best life she can, like any other HNW widow when the breadwinner dies mid-career.

And that raises the biggest “teachable moment” here. What he needed was life insurance. I doubt he had a lot, unless the production studio took out a policy in his name. 


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