James Gandolfini: No Need to Pay Extra Taxes 

The actor and producer most renowned for his role as mafia boss Tony Soprano left only 20% of the estate to his wife. The remainder was left to his children, friends, and relatives. Since his estate was above the estate tax threshold, the result was that approximately 55% of the estate’s money went to pay the taxes and fees!

He could have avoided this onerous payment. It would have been done by gifting assets during life, leaving more money to his wife directly (there is an unlimited marital deduction for a US citizen spouse) or by setting up a specialized trust which gave income for life to his spouse but left her with no control to dispose of the assets upon her death.

Either way, with proper planning, millions of taxes could have been avoided.


Michael Jackson – Fund Your Trusts 

Michael Jackson had an estate plan, but it was not followed through. He created a Trust – but he did not fund it properly. This lack of funding defeated the main purpose of his Trust – avoidance of probate court and publicity! He also named non-family members as Executors without explaining his decision. The result was a multi-year family battle in probate court that costs millions of dollars.

Both fights and court costs could have been avoided – with proper follow up on the initial plan.


Howard Hughes – Write It Down Properly 

When the aviation pioneer died, despite several documents that purported to be his Wills, the court eventually ruled that Mr. Hughes died intestate! Even though Mr. Hughes often stated that he wanted his money to advance medical research, due to his unwillingness to write it down properly, his $2.5 billion estate ended up getting split among 22 cousins.

This result of money going to the wrong people could have been avoided with a proper attorney supervising a Will signing.


Doris Duke – Choose Qualified Agents 

When Doris Duke, a tobacco and energy heiress died, she created a $1 billion foundation and named her butler as a manager. The butler turned out to be a poor money manager, who focused instead on enjoying a lavish lifestyle. A costly court battle was required to remove him.

This result of asset mismanagement could have been avoided with a nomination of a qualified fiduciary and a qualified monitor. Just because a person is close to you does not mean that he or she is qualified to act in a financial capacity.