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Celebrities' heirs suffer when estate planning is neglected

A recent article in Forbes discusses a television series on the Reelz channel called Celebrity Legacies. Shown nationally, including in Texas, the cable series delves into the details surrounding a deceased celebrity’s estate. Other than the sheer attraction that many people have to the lives and deaths of celebrities, the series also gives us a chance to see where we may have gone right or wrong in our own estate planning activities.

The Forbes article is written by a husband and wife who specialize in the subject, and who appear as analysts on each of the episodes of the series. One of the first estates depicted was that of actor James Gandolfini, whose untimely death in his prime shocked his fans and many of his fellow actors. The analysts make the point that Gandolfini, who left two young children from two different marriages, relied on a hastily drawn simple will that was composed after the birth of his daughter.

With a revocable living trust, however, the actor could have shielded his family from the media attention of a publicly probated will. The trust is private, whereas the will is a public document that must be processed through an open court. The risk of public squabbling between children from two different marriages was thus a factor that a living trust could have eliminated in that circumstance. Additionally, Gandolfini apparently neglected to provide a trust provision in his will for the protection of his children.

Thus, for example, his daughter will be given 20 percent of his $70 to $80 million estate in one chunk at age 21. With some essential estate planning, he could have set up a trust, either during life or through the simple will, that would have enabled a trustee to distribute the funds to his daughter in installments, with a final distribution at a later, more mature age. In Texas, as elsewhere, procrastination about estate planning is a fairly common phenomenon that can cause additional grief and frustration for the beloved family of a decedent.

Source: Forbes, "Estate Planning Lessons From James Gandolfini And Other Celebrity Legacies", Danielle and Andy Mayoras, Aug. 6, 2014

Source: Forbes, "Estate Planning Lessons From James Gandolfini And Other Celebrity Legacies", Danielle and Andy Mayoras, Aug. 6, 2014

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