Learning From James Gandolfini's Will

James Gandolfini played a truly intense and scary character on the Sopranos. Who would have thought that his will would have been even more frightening? His will has been called a "disaster" and a "nightmare" by estate planning attorneys because may subject his estate to unnecessary taxes.

His will directs his executors to pay the estate taxes due BEFORE his assets are divided up among his heirs. The result is that his wife may have to pay federal estate taxes that could have been avoided. Even if Gandolfini had a good reason to draft his will in this way, this story has an important lesson; wills are public documents.

A revocable living trust takes assets out of probate which means it is kept private. Revocable living trusts also serve the same function as a will.

LESSON OF THE DAY: The majority of Americans do not have to worry about federal estate taxes. However, those who treasure their privacy should talk to an attorney about creating estate documents that will bypass probate court and ensure that your final arrangements are not made public.