Recently, “Sopranos” actor James Gandolfini died in Italy, leaving behind a wife, two children, and a sizable estate. When any celebrity dies and garners national attention, it can often be useful to look at what he or she did for estate planning purposes. In Gandolfini’s case, there are a number of positives, as well as several negatives, that we can talk about to help explain how estate planning in North Dakota works, and what kinds of choices you will have to make.
Testamentary or Lifetime Trusts
Much of Gandolfini’s estimated $70 million estate will pass to his two young children. When he died, Gandolfini left behind a 13-year-old son and an infant daughter, each of whom inherited a substantial portion of his wealth. Because the children are still young, Gandolfini’s will calls for them to inherit the property only after they reach the age of 21. Until then, the property will be held in a testamentary trust.
However, it may have been better for Gandolfini to have left his children their inheritances through a lifetime trust. By creating a lifetime trust for each of the children, he could have directed that they would become co-trustees once they reach a certain age, such as age 25. Then, several years later, the children could become sole trustee.
In such a situation, the children would still be entitled to use or benefit from their inheritances, but they could be better protected against creditors, bankruptcy, or other legal problems.
Gandolfini apparently owned some substantial real estate in Italy. Unfortunately, his will does not appear to have taken Italian law into consideration. Anytime you own property outside of the United States, or even have property in a different state, you should always consider how the location of the property, and the laws of the state or country in which is located, will affect your estate plan.
The federal estate tax exemption is currently $5.25 million. If you leave an estate in excess of this amount, a portion of your estate will be subject to the federal estate tax. If Gandolfini left his entire estate through his last will and testament his $70 million estate may have to fork over a $30 million estate tax bill.
Though the terms of the Gandolfini will are clear, there isn’t yet a clear indication of how much of his property will be covered by it. Not all of a person’s property is considered probate property, and it’s very possible that Gandolfini left much of his estate in the hands of one or more trusts. Because trusts are private, we might never know what his estate plan allowed him to do.