The recent death of James Gandolfini, best known as mobster Tony Soprano on the HBO series, is a reminder that it is never to soon to create an estate plan even if just a will. At the relatively young age of 51, the actor’s sudden death has left a reportedly $70 million estate with more unsolved questions than the series left in its final episode.
To his credit, Gandolfini did have a will, and he had done the right thing and updated it last December after the birth of his youngest child. But for a well-known celebrity and the curiosity that usually follows a celebrity death, having a will leaves nothing to the imagination. Once a will is probated, its contents are public. Anyone, from ex-wives to paparazzi to rabid fans, will be able to read the entire 17-page will.
You may be thinking that you don’t have a $70 million estate so why would you care if someone read your will after you die. Well, even if you don’t have curious ex-wives or estranged relatives who may be interested in seeing “who got what,” your creditors also have access to the will. If you owe debt when you die, creditors may see “who got what” and target those beneficiaries for the assets. Many debts include a “look-back” period that allows a creditor to question gifts made as much as six years prior to your death.
So regardless of the amount of your estate, do you really want anyone and everyone to have easy access to it? Many probate offices now have records on the Internet, so seeing your will doesn’t even involve a trip to the courthouse, just a click or two on a computer.
You have options that Gandolfini, with all of his resources, did not take advantage of. An experienced estate planning attorney can tell you, regardless of the value of your estate, if there are better options for you than a will. Whether you want to keep your personal affairs private or just simplify the probate of your estate, there are many estate planning solutions to accomplish the goal.