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GANDOLFINI ESTATE: MISTAKE OR CHOICE?

James_Gandolfini_@_Toronto_International_Film_Festival_2011

GANDOLFINI ESTATE: MISTAKE OR CHOICE?

James_Gandolfini_@_Toronto_International_Film_Festival_2011James Gandolfini has made at least as many headlines lately, after his passing, as he did as the star of “The Sopranos.” But it’s not the kind of publicity most people care to have.

These stories make public what should and could have been highly private, personal choices. It didn’t have to be this way.

We now know that Mr. Gandolfini did not leave all his property to his wife. She only received 20% of what was left after last expenses and certain gifts to friends, relatives and his personal assistant. His sisters each received more than Mrs. Gandolfini.

Why do we know this? Because a will is a public document if it goes through probate, and this one is going through probate. So now everyone from financial experts to tax experts to estate planners to gossip columnists (and me!) have something to talk about.

A plan that includes trusts and other private contracts does not generally appear in the court, let alone the newspapers.

Much of the chatter has to do with the allegation that a huge “mistake” may result in a $30 million tax bill. There are many ways this estate could have been planned to reduce the tax bill considerably.

Marital trusts, Family Limited Partnerships, proper use of irrevocable trusts, all offer relief. But the fact remains that Mr. Gandolfini, as the client to his professional advisors, ultimately made the decision on how to set up his estate.

While we Monday Morning Quarterbacks may poke holes in the strategy, we should keep in mind that the client’s desires prevail.

I recently had an experience that reinforced this principle, where a high net worth client consciously chose not to set up any elaborate plan that would result in a larger tax bill. His beneficiaries will do just fine, thank you very much.

Mostly, trusts, wills and estates are boring and stay out of the headlines. I prefer to keep it that way with my clients!

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