As Americans, we tend to idolize celebrities, placing them upon pedestals that are sometimes deserved, and are often not. When it comes to estate planning and asset protection, it is easy to assume that the fame and wealth that many of these individuals enjoy will translate into a higher level of preparation than the rest of us enjoy. Not to mention the fact that many celebrities have far more wealth to manage than most New Jersey residents. In reality, however, the rich and famous often leave behind estates that are rife with poor planning and errors in judgment, just like many “regular” Americans.
Take, for example, the estate of actor James Gandolfini. Made famous by his award-winning performance as Tony Soprano in the HBO hit “The Sopranos,” Gandolfini had amassed an estate valued at between $70 million and $80 million. At the time of his death at only 51 years of age, his estate planning consisted primarily of a will. There was no trust in place to guide the distribution of his assets to the intended heirs.
Without a trust, the estate was required to go through the probate process, which opened up the actor’s private financial matters to public scrutiny. In addition, there were no provisions made to ensure that his two children, both currently minors, will be mature enough to handle their inheritance when they are entitled to receive it. Had there been a trust put into place, Gandolfini could have granted a measure of control over the estate to a trusted friend or family member, who could then decide when his children would be able to handle the influx of wealth that they are set to receive.
It is said that James Gandolfini began the estate planning process prior to leaving the country for an extended vacation. Intending to complete these asset protection documents upon his return, six months passed before the actor experienced a sudden heart attack that ended his life. While the vast majority of New Jersey residents will have nowhere near the level of wealth that Gandolfini had amassed, virtually everyone can relate to the risks of procrastinating when it comes to such an important legal need.
Source: Forbes, “Estate Planning Lessons From James Gandolfini And Other Celebrity Legacies,” Danielle and Andy Mayoras, Aug. 6, 2014