The Skinny on James Gandolfini’s Problem Will

Alexa Pugh

will and testamentFamily, friends and fans of James Gandolfini—best known for his TV role as mob boss Tony Soprano—were shocked when the actor passed away suddenly at age 51. And as the details of his will have become public, there’s been even more cause for surprise.

According to The New York Times, the famous actor’s estate was apparently so poorly planned that his heirs could be forced to fight complex legal battles tied to his assets.

The Impact on His Children

“The assumptions that many people are making are totally incorrect,” Gandolfini’s lawyer, Roger S. Haber, told The New York Times. “Everyone in his life was taken care of.” 

But the lack of detail in the actor’s relatively brief will may present problems for his two children. For one, there’s speculation that a gift-tax provision that was about to expire pressured Gandolfini to hastily sign off on the will in December 2012, while trying to ensure that his second wife and then 2-month-old daughter would be provided for.

But the money designated for his daughter wasn’t put into a trust, which gives her full discretion to spend it when she turns 21. More importantly, the money lacks the safeguard from creditors that a trust could have provided. 

But there was one very smart move that the actor made: Thanks to a life insurance policy that Gandolfini set up in 2002, his son will receive a $7 million payout. That money is in an insurance trust, and it can’t be taxed with the rest of the estate.

RELATED: Life and Disability Insurance 101: What You Need to Know 

Questions Swirl Over the Actor’s Tax Strategy

Rumor has it that the Gandolfini estate is worth over $70 million—and could be subject to a staggering $30 million in taxes due to poor planning. While both figures are likely huge overestimates, there are still lessons to be learned about the need to properly navigate tax law when it comes to estates.