James Gandolfini, the actor who played iconic character Tony Soprano (of HBO’s The Sopranos), died suddenly of a heart attack in late June.
Coincidentally, the man who played a mob boss unconcerned with the IRS on TV apparently shared the same disinterest with the IRS in real life. When the contents of his will become public shortly after his passing, many estate planning attorneys and experts noted that “its structure could cost his heirs millions in taxes that could have been avoided with proper planning,” according to The Fiscal Times.
Unfortunately, this is an all too common phenomenon in the U.S. today. According to The Fiscal Times article, 120 million Americans don’t have an up-to-date estate plan to protect themselves and their family.
The article makes several very good suggestions regarding what you can learn from Gandolfini’s estate planning mistakes, including the following:
It’s not just for the wealthy.
You don’t have to have millions to need an estate plan. Having an estate plan can make sure that whatever assets you have are given to your heirs according to your wishes. It can also help prevent fights over your assets among your heirs and provide for your children.
You might need more than a will.
A will is the most basic of estate planning documents and is what most people think of when planning for the end of life. However, you might also need a trust to avoid paying federal estate taxes or to provide for children until they are mature enough to handle their inheritance.
Think about your children.
If your children are under the age of 18, estate planning is even more important for you. If the worst should occur—both you and the other parent pass away—your estate plan should let the court know who will take care of your children. If you don’t make this decision, a judge will have to do it for you.
It’s not just about end of life preparations.
Most people think of estate planning as having only to do with death. But it’s more than that: proper estate planning should include instructions for what happens if you are incapacitated (in a coma, for example). A power of attorney document appoints a trusted person to handle your affairs and make decisions (financial and/or medical) on your behalf if you’re unable to do so yourself.
Include your online accounts.
Passwords are hard enough for you to remember, let alone your family members. Make sure that your online accounts and login information are included in your estate plan (though not your will, since this is public record). Have a plan for how you would like your online accounts, such as Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and others, handled. This is a relatively new area of estate planning that most people overlook entirely (93% of Americans, according to a Rocketlawyer survey).
As your life changes, so should your estate plan.
If you’ve already created an estate plan, that’s wonderful! You’re thinking ahead, and your planning will save your loved ones time, hassles, and even heartache down the road. However, you shouldn’t create your estate plan then forget about it. Whenever you go through any major life changes, such as a marriage, divorce, birth of a grandchild, etc., you should update your plan.