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Debate: Was Gandolfini's will good enough?

James Gandolfini, one of the most iconic American actors, died while on vacation in June. Although this tragic incident has had its twists and turns, one of the most surprising developments in the story is the focus on Gandolfini's estate administration plan. That is, his will is currently under scrutiny. Experts in the field say the man failed to properly structure his estate plan, a situation that could lead to lawsuits and other legal maneuvers from unruly family members. In addition, news reports allege that poor planning led to the estate handing over about $30 million of the man's $70 million fortune, largely because the plan ignored tax restrictions.

So, how does one of Hollywood's most well-known actors end up with such a faulty will? Was it really that faulty at all? New information in the case leads financial gurus to believe that all is not as it seems in Gandolfini's estate documents.

An insider in the case reports that Gandolfini understood the difference between probate assets and other holdings. Probate assets are those governed by your will, while non-probate assets include life insurance, retirement and other accounts or policies. Instead of using probate assets to pay for the tax burden, it is therefore possible that Gandolfini had set aside little-known holdings from non-probate sources.

Further analysis of Gandolfini's will reveals it is quite loosely structured. The document would likely be too vague for an average 51-year-old, much less someone with massive holdings and enduring fame. Experts say, again, that trusts and other vehicles could have been used to distribute assets without specific provisions in the man's will.

In essence, Florida residents should think twice before judging Gandolfini's tax and estate plans. Wills are not the final word in estate planning. Clients can use trusts and other shelters to protect the money that should go to their heirs. If you are interested in pursuing more in-depth estate planning that goes past a simple will, consider talking to a qualified probate attorney. These professionals can help you learn about the best options for your individual situation.

Source:  www.nytimes.com, "A public debate over the wisdom of Gandolfini's will" Paul Sullivan, Jul. 19, 2013