David Jones and wife Betty

Humana co-founder David Jones Sr. and his wife, Betty. She died in August 2019 and he in September. (courtesy of Humana)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Shortly before he retired as chairman of Louisville-based Humana Inc. in 2005, David A. Jones Sr. owned stock in the company that, had he held onto it, would be worth nearly $2.4 billion today.

But Jones, who died on Sept. 18 at age 88, managed to leave behind an estate worth only $21 million, according to records filed in Jefferson County probate court.

Experts in probate and wealth transfer law say the $21 million reflects only what Jones left to pass to heirs through the normal court process, which is likely vastly less than his real wealth.

People of Jones’ means often use legal vehicles such as trusts, family limited partnerships and charitable foundations to reduce and transfer their assets, for tax benefits and for privacy.

Through those mechanisms, “the estate can be whittled down to a significantly lower number,” said Jennifer Bird-Pollan, an expert on wealth transfer issues at the University of Kentucky College of Law.

The $21 million reflects only what Jones is passing to family and charities through the legal process -- not the assets he may have already put into trusts or other vehicles.

Jones’ estate has yet to file a detailed inventory of his probated assets. In court records, they are described as $15 million in “miscellaneous real estate and investments” and $6.5 million in “miscellaneous tangible personal property, notes and cash accounts,” with no additional details.

Jones’ wife Betty, who died about a month earlier in August, left an estate worth only $400,000, according to court records.

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Mark Oppenheimer, the Louisville attorney handling both estates, did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did David Jones Jr., one of the Jones’ children and an executor of the estates.

For the wealthy, the benefits of trusts include possible tax savings and a faster, cheaper way to transfer assets to family than probate, said Richard Ausness, who teaches trusts and estates at the UK College of Law.

“The other reason,” he said, “is the secrecy.”

The existence of trusts – as well as whom they benefit and what assets they hold – is shielded from public record, he said.

That makes them a convenient tool to discretely transfer wealth, he said.

David Jones Sr.’s 2013 will, filed in probate court following his death, mentions a trust in his name. The will also contemplates situations in which some of his assets might go to the Jones family charitable arm, the C. E. & S. Foundation and to the 21st Century Parks Endowment, which supports the Parklands of Floyds Fork that the Jones family developed.

Jones grew up in a poor neighborhood in West Louisville and in 1961 co-founded a nursing home company that would evolve into Humana, which today is one of the largest health insurance companies in the country.

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2019 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.