Death, Taxes, and Tony Soprano

While many of Tony Soprano’s most iconic quotes are of the NSFW variety, one of his “work friendly” quotes comes to mind in light of the criticism directed towards James Gandolfini’s estate plan: “A wrong decision is better than indecision.” While the benefit of hindsight makes it easy to point out the perceived tax flaws of the last will and testament that Roger S. Haber drafted for Mr. Gandolfini, at least Gandolfini and his attorney made a decision! By seeking legal counsel to draft a testamentary instrument devising his possessions, Gandolfini avoided a fate that has befallen luminaries such as Abraham Lincoln, Pablo Picasso, Stieg Larsson, Howard Hughes, and Bob Marley-dying without a will. Regardless of whether Mr. Gandolfini would have chosen for Uncle Sam to receive such a hefty portion of the fruits of his lifetime of labor, Gandolfini can rest in peace knowing that he was able to convey his feelings with one final act of affection.

While many have criticized the attorney who drafted Gandolfini’s last will and testament-justifiably or not-Gandolfini’s attorney conveyed the importance of creating an estate plan, and this should be applauded. Jack Kerouac discussed the human aversion to facing one’s own mortality in his timeless quote:

I am young now and can look upon my body and soul with pride. But it will be mangled soon, and later it will begin to disintegrate, and then I shall die, and die conclusively. How can we face such a fact, and not live in fear?

Unfortunately, the fear discussed by Kerouac often leads individuals to postpone creating estate plans like the one created by Gandolfini and Mr. Haber, which can lead to disastrous results. For instance, had Mr. Gandolfini died intestate in Florida, 50% of his estate would have passed to his wife, Deborah Lin, and the other 50% would have been split between his two children, Michael and Liliana Ruth Gandolfini, based on Florida’s Statute of Intestate Succession, found in Chapter 732, Florida Statutes.

Mr. Gandolfini would have likely taken solace in the fact that his wife and children would have been provided for had he died intestate. However, Gandolfini would surely have been disheartened to learn that his two sisters, two nieces, godson, and several of his friends would have received nothing, despite the fact that Gandolfini amassed an estimated $70 million fortune during his lifetime. Additionally, had Gandolfini not consulted with Mr. Haber to devise an instrument to carry out his testamentary plan, both of his children would have received single, multi-million dollar paydays upon reaching their eighteenth birthdays. Instead, Mr. Faber was able to ensure that Gandolfini could provide certain paternal protections to his children to ensure they have the best opportunities to make their inheritances last for the duration of their respective lifetimes. So while it is easy to criticize Mr. Faber for not taking advantage of the potential tax advantages that Chepenik Trushin LLP would have counseled its client to consider, Mr. Haber should be commended for counseling his client to face the difficult task of preparing for the possibility of his untimely demise.

In a classic episode of the Sopranos, Tony counseled his uncle, Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri, “Let’s do it right . . . . Plan things out. Make no Mistake.” As James Gandolfini’s tragic death at only 51 years of age proves, planning things out is the only way to ensure that your family is provided for if you meet your maker sooner than expected. Establishing a plan for the security and transfer of your assets in the event of your death or disability is an ongoing process, and it is never too early to start; do not wait until it is too late. The firm of Chepenik Trushin LLP employs a unique blend of experience in the areas of estate planning, probate, corporate/business law, real estate and taxation to help you craft the most efficient estate plan possible to make your life and the life of your loved ones as full as possible, and can also assist in defending or challenging a will, depending on the circumstances and goals of the client. Please do not hesitate to contact the experienced legal team at Chepenik Trushin LLP to advise and potentially represent you in estate planning or probate matters.