James Gandolfini's Will Highlights Estate Planning Concerns for Blended Families


Estate planning is something few of us like to think about, but it's crucial for anyone in a blended family situation. The importance of proper estate planning can be seen in the recent death of actor James Gandolfini. Best known for his portrayal of Tony Soprano, Gandolfini passed away on June 19 at age 51. He had two children, a 14-year-old son from his first marriage and a one-year-old daughter from his second marriage.

Gandolfini left a $7 million life-insurance policy in a trust shielded from tax for his son, as well as the option to buy his New York condominium. His son will also receive his father's clothing and jewelry. The daughter was left 20% of the Gandolfini's residuary estate in a trust with his wife, one of his sisters, and a lawyer serving as the trustees.

Although it appears that Gandolfini made a good faith effort to provide for both children, their treatment highlights the struggle that divorced parents face as they try to decide whether it is best to be equal or to be fair when making a will. Dividing assets evenly down the middle is often not possible and a large age difference between children makes differences in treatment a practical necessity.

Experts suggest that anyone with a will that involves children from different marriages should consider leaving a legacy letter that explains differences in treatment. This helps prevent hard feelings between the children, especially if there is a significant amount of money changing hands. It's dangerous to assume that children will accurately guess the reason for a parent's decision. For example, leaving a letter that specifies that your son was left the family's vacation home because it was his favorite spot as a child and he has the resources necessary to keep the home properly maintained can help put aside your daughter's fear that she was not loved and appreciated.

Gandolfini's home in Italy was left to both children together. If property is going to be left to children to share, it's critical to make sure that there are assets set aside to help maintain the property until the children are old enough to assume responsibility. Special considerations must be made for children with a significant age difference between them. Gandolfini's will specifies that the property can't be sold until his daughter is 25 years of age, although his hope was that his children would continue to own the property together.

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Please call our office at (626) 683-8113 or email us at info@PasadenaLawOffice.com to speak to one of our Pasadena family law attorneys if you have questions about estate planning after your divorce.