Tony Soprano’s Estate Planning Advice

James Gandolfini Estate Planning
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Tony Soprano’s Estate Planning Lesson

James Gandolfini, an incredibly talented and versatile actor best known for his portrayal of fictional New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano, passed away on June 19, 2013 from an unexpected heart attack. In episode 44 of The Sopranosthe hugely successful HBO show in which he starred, Gandolfini’s character consults a CPA (certified public accountant) about estate planning.

While discussing the future of his estate and family with his CPA, Gandolfini’s character is told that an irrevocable living trust — a document his wife Carmela has urged him to sign — is a red flag. The CPA goes on to inform the fictional mob boss that a revocable living trust, however, keeps your estate plan private. Yet in real life, James Gandolfini left behind a 17-page last will and testament that anyone can read. Additionally, the esteemed actor also created an irrevocable life insurance trust for his son, Michael.

Four important lessons can be learned from the way both Tony Soprano and James Gandolfini planned their estates:

  • It is never too soon to create your will — James Gandolfini signed his 17-page last will and testament on December 19, 2012, only six months before his death. Imagine if he had waited longer. No one wants to ponder his or her own mortality, but setting up a solid estate plan ensures that the people you care about most will enjoy your legacy as fully and as immediately as possible.
  • Revocable living trusts provide privacy — The fictional CPA who advised Tony Soprano to create a revocable living trust to ensure privacy was right. Shortly after James Gandolfini’s real will was filed with New York Surrogate’s Court, it became viewable online to anyone, free of charge. By creating a revocable living trust, Gandolfini could have assured that his last wishes would remain private.
  • Wills must be updated — James Gandolfini updated his will a few months after his daughter Liliana was born. Had Gandolfini failed to update his will prior to her birth, it may have excluded Liliana and she may have been unintentionally disinherited. A will is not a one-and-done document. Rather, it should grow and evolve with your life. If you have a will, follow in Mr. Gandolfini’s footsteps and be sure to update it after important life events such as marriage, divorce, births and deaths.
  • There is no substitute for a lawyer — Tony Soprano obtains legal advice from a CPA at a racetrack while his wife consults her cousin Brian, a financial advisor. Both of those positions are vital as you consider your estate plan.  They belong in the universe of the work that you do and you need them to make sure you are fully protected.  At the end of the day, you also need an attorney to ensure you are protected legally, as well as financially.

The sudden death of James Gandolfini was a severe blow to many — the Hollywood community, fans and most of all, the actor’s family. Fortunately, Mr. Gandolfini had a thoughtful estate plan in place, so his loved ones were provided for. If you have questions about creating a will, trust or estate plan in Union or Hunterdon County, email Alec Borenstein, Esq., a partner with the firm, at alec@bmcestateplanning.com or call 908-236-6457.

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