The New York Times’ explosive report on the Trump family’s wealth is a juicy saga of shady dealings and fudged numbers. The scathing, almost novella-length exposé, which was first published online October 2 before being blared on the paper’s front page the following day, refutes the narrative that Donald Trump is a self-made billionaire. But regardless of whether you believe the story is fake news or an on-the-money accounting of wealth gone wild, it embodies important lessons for advisors and their clients.

For one thing, it reveals “a lot of good planning,” said Steve Oshins, an estate planning attorney and partner at Oshins & Associates in Las Vegas.

Consider the Trumps’ use of grantor retained annuity trusts. Fred and Mary Trump, the president’s parents, each gifted a 49.8 percent minority interest in several limited liability companies to GRATs they each set up, the article reports. This resulted in the gifts being valued for estate and gift tax purposes at much less than their pro-rata share of market value, said Oshins. “The IRS allows this and it’s good planning that many estate planners have done hundreds of times. It’s what I would have done for Fred and Mary Trump.”

It was also smart for Donald Trump to receive his inheritance in a creditor- and divorce-protected trust, Oshins said. “That’s what we do for every client,” he said.

However, there were paths the Trumps should not have gone down, he added. One ill-intentioned act involved creating a company to service and supply Fred Trump’s properties. That company, All County Building Supply & Maintenance, was owned by Donald Trump and other family members. It over-charged Fred Trump’s companies for the items and services it provided them, the New York Times wrote. If true, this would have had the effect of transferring cash from Fred Trump to his family members without gift tax, which was 55 percent at the time.

Fred Trump even went so far as to use the padded All County receipts to justify rent increases for his properties' tenants, the article said.

The article also reported multiple instances of “extreme undervaluation” of assets, and by extension asset transfers, by the Trumps, said Daniel N. Shaviro, professor of taxation at the New York University School of Law. There are penalties in the Internal Revenue Code for when items are inappropriately valued and, in the wake of the Times article, N.Y. authorities opened an investigation into Trump family taxes. “The Trumps kind of ran amok with undervaluation and they seem to have gotten away with it,” Shaviro said.

Miscreants may well conclude from the Trump story that they can circumvent tax laws scot-free. Indeed, what veteran planner hasn’t seen highly questionable positions taken by a wealthy client’s advisor that successfully, if not dubiously, shaved millions in taxes?

Yet sometimes people get caught, Shaviro reminds practitioners. “Like in the Son of Boss tax shelter era of the early 2000s. Lawyers and accountants were convicted,” he said.

The real lesson for advisors as well as clients is that there’s a difference between legitimate tax avoidance and illegal tax evasion, observed Manhattan CPA John R. Lieberman, managing director at Perelson Weiner LLP. When choosing between acting ethically or otherwise, “there’s an old expression,” Lieberman said, and it’s one that lifelong New Yorkers such as the Trumps ought to have known. “Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t want to see published on the front page of the New York Times.”