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Details emerging concerning actor James Gandolfini's estate plan

Actor James Gandolfini, best known for the central role he played in the long-running HBO hit series "The Sopranos," died recently of a heart attack in Rome at the age of 51.

Media stories that have subsequently surfaced regarding Gandolfini's wealth -- an estimated $70 million estate -- have ranged widely in their tone and treatment. Some accounts have praised the actor's estate planning moves as thoughtful and well-considered, pointing to his execution of a will, trusts and other instruments. Others have openly questioned the effectiveness of the planning documents in light of what Gandolfini hoped to accomplish, pointing to loopholes that could leave the estate open to many millions of dollar in tax liability.

The will recently filed in a Manhattan court reveals that Gandolfini provided widely and generously to family members and loved ones. His teenage son, Michael, is the beneficiary under a trust owning a $7 million life insurance policy in his name. Another trust holds property located in Italy for Gandolfini’s infant daughter.

A number of persons receiving sizable cash bequests are also named in the will.

The remainder of the actor’s estate is divided among family members, with two sisters receiving a large portion.

One estate attorney reviewing the will for a New York newspaper is highly critical regarding its drafting, saying that, “It’s a nightmare from a tax standpoint.” He notes that the 80 percent of the estate left by Gandolfini to his sisters and daughter is subject to death taxes amounting to about 55 percent.

The result of that could be that more than $30 million of Gandolfini’s wealth goes to the government rather than to family members.

Gandolfini’s motives and intended means to carry them out are, given the size of his estate, obviously somewhat complex.

The stories emerging Gandolfini’s estate planning are certainly instructive. They underscore the importance of securing a deeply experienced and focused estate planning attorney in any instance where a sizable estate is concerned.

Source: New York Daily News, "James Gandolfini will a tax 'disaster,' says top estate lawyer," Dareh Gregorian, July 5, 2013

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