The Soprano’s Estate in the Public Eye

Tony Soprano may have been an expert at hiding his money from the feds, but actor James Gandolfini, the recently deceased actor who portrayed the fictional New Jersey mob boss on TV, apparently was not. Moreover, advisors say that wealthy families can take some lessons from the mistakes the award-winning actor made in mapping out his estate plan.

As you may have heard, TV star and man of not inconsiderable wealth, James Gandolfini, recently and suddenly passed away. He left behind both shock at his passing and shock at the state of his estate.

Indeed, few estate plans in recent years, celebrity or otherwise, have received such biting criticism as that of Mr. Gandolfini. What happened? More to the point, what should have been done?

The reviews of Gandolfini’s estate planning have captured as much airtime as the unfortunate news of his passing. In turn, this has prompted more than a few editorials and guides arm-chair-quarterbacking his estate plan (or lack thereof). Consider, for example, practical articles like Learning From Gandolfini’s Estate Plan ‘Disaster’” from Financial Adviser or “6 Estate Planning Lessons From James Gandolfini’s Will” from Forbes.

Why all of the attention? Aside from the celebrity value, the fact that the Will of Mr. Gandolfini had to be probated opened the door for speculation about the estate tax issues that could have been avoided.  The speculation by pundits about what could and could not have been done, itself could have been avoided by careful planning.

Is that the full story? According to fleeting words from Gandolfini’s estate planner as reported in The New York Times article titled “A Public Debate Over the Wisdom of Gandolfini’s Will,” there may be more in play.

All the same, there are few estates that so vividly portray the values (and value) of estate planning, either in the form of taxes saved or in simple terms of privacy. A fact lost on no commentator is that when the Gandolfini estate entered probate, the estate was bared to the prying eyes and opinions of the world.  This could have been avoided by trusts implemented to handle the estate without the world publicity.

Reference: The New York Times (July 19, 2013) “A Public Debate Over the Wisdom of Gandolfini’s Will

Financial Adviser (July 19, 2013) “Learning From Gandolfini’s Estate Plan ‘Disaster’

Forbes (July 20, 2013) “6 Estate Planning Lessons From James Gandolfini’s Will

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