James Gandolfini's will comes under the microscope


People in California probably know about James Gandolfini, the actor most-well-known for his turn as Tony Soprano on the hit television show. When he unexpectedly died at the relatively young age of 51, people mourned the loss of this talented man, but soon afterwards the attention turned to the controversies surrounding his estate plan.

According to some sources, Gandolfini died with a tax liability of roughly $30 million, which is a staggering amount for even a famous celebrity. With a purported net worth of $70 million, almost half of Gandolfini's estate would become property of the U.S. government if these reports are accurate.

A recent article news article talked about some of the specific provisions of his will, and how the person who drafted the will could have done a better job avoiding probate and unnecessary taxation. According to people who knew the contents of the will, it relied on a system that used set monetary amounts for some bequests, and relied on percentages for others. While this may not be problematic in itself, it can be when you are dealing with unexpected life events and dollar amounts that can fluctuate rather rapidly, leaving an undesirable lack of precision and potentially difficult tax burdens for loved ones to shoulder.

While the will itself may be unorthodox and, according to many experts, flawed, he reportedly did spend a lot of time selecting and instructing the guardians and trustees of his two minor children. This is undoubtedly an important aspect of preparing a will, but one can't help but wonder if more careful estate planning might have helped Gandolfini pass on a greater percentage of his assets to loved ones and less to the tax collector.

Source: Financial Post, "A public debate over the wisdom of Gandolfini's will," Paul Sullivan, July 13, 2013

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