Legal Blog

The Weekly Scenario from Steve Shane – 8.19.13

Question:  I have been reading a lot about James Gandolfini’s Will and that certain mistakes were made.  What could have been done to avoid the negative publicity? Answer:  While we do not know much about Mr. Gandolfini’s estate, I do wonder why any part of his estate plan was left to public inspection through his Will.  After his death, there were all sorts of articles floating around about the mistakes he made from a tax standpoint, etc, etc.  For example, why didn’t Mr. Gandolfini create a trust to protect his young daughter (instead of relying on a postponement clause until age 21)? Had the plan of disposition been a revocable trust, for example, and the will simply ‘poured-over’ to the trust, there would be little, if anything, for the public to comment on. Probate avoidance is typically one of the selling points for revocable trusts.  Probate is the court supervised process that allows for the gathering of assets and administering one’s estate.  Having a court appointed administrator of an estate is not always a bad thing.  There are often good reasons for opening an estate.  But the other important reason for the creation of a revocable trust is privacy concerns.  That is to say, keeping one’s final affairs a private matter.  For celebrities or other folks in the public eye, drafting a revocable trust and pour over would likely have provided better protection of Mr. Gandolfini and his family from all the intense media focus. And revocable trusts can perform the same function as Wills, but because they are not required to be filed in court, it keeps the affairs of a decedent a private matter.  Revocable trusts allow for management of the assets by a successor Trustee without a court proceeding.  Even if a probate estate was opened, the only document available to public inspection is the simple Will that doesn’t provide for how assets pass.  Generally speaking, inspection of a simple says nothing about the disposition of the client’s assets. Take-Away:  For most people, I don’t think the take away is that everyone needs a revocable trust.  But revocable trusts do have a place, particularly for people who have been thrust into the limelight or have achieved any degree of celebrity. Steven E. Shane Principal Offit│Kurman Attorneys At Law 301.575.0313 Washington 443.738.1513 Baltimore 410.218.9339 Mobile 301.575.0335 Facsimile Please note the above material discussed is intended to provide only general information. Do not, under any circumstances, solely rely on this information as legal advice. Legal matters are often complicated. For assistance with your specific legal problem or inquiry please contact me directly.