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Estates can be problematic when not properly managed

The untimely death of actor Robin Williams may leave some New Jersey residents questioning whether their wills and other estate planning documents are in order. Estates are something that many people choose not to think about until they are reminded of their impending deaths by the passing of acquaintances or individuals in the media. Many people can learn from the estate planning mistakes of others when those errors become public knowledge.

One celebrity whose estate issues were widely publicized was James Gandolfini. The Sopranos actor passed away while in his 50's and while traveling in Italy. Upon his death he left two children from two different relationships fatherless and an estate plan that was insufficient to protect his estimated $70 to $80 million of wealth.

Gandolfini had a will but apparently no trust documents that would have kept his assets from going through the probate courts. As some readers may know, probate can become a costly process that can deplete a person's estate through taxes and administrative fees. Certain estate planning tools like trusts can be used to keep assets free of probate while preserving wealth for an individual's heirs.

He also failed to account for certain real estate properties that were located outside of the United States. These oversights in his estate plan may have significantly reduced his overall estate size and therefore the inheritance available to his children. While wills can provide an estate with some direction they alone are often insufficient to manage an estate at its most effective level.

The mistakes of the famous are often opportunities for the public to learn from. Many celebrities have created ineffective plans from which everyday men and women can glean hints for improving their own estate schemes. Attorneys who work in the estate planning field can help their clients create effective plans that avoid the costly mistakes made by others.

Source: Forbes.com, "Estate Planning Lessons From James Gandolfini And Other Celebrity Legacies," Danielle and Andy Mayoras, Aug. 6, 2014

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