A Whacked Estate and More Interesting News From the World of Estate Planning

John O‘Grady, O’Grady Law Group, APC

James Gandolfini ‘Tony Soprano’ Estate Gets Whacked

gandolfiniActor James Gandolfini (a.k.a., fictional TV mob boss Tony Soprano) died suddenly of a heart attack in June at the age of 51. Gandolfini didn’t plan for the estate tax and so the government, instead of his loved ones, will get about $30 million of his $70 million.

Because Gandolfini had only a will, and not a trust, the details are public. His lack of planning is the norm, especially in blended families like his.

Real life leadership is essential to the challenging conversations and decisions necessary to provide for assets, children, and spouses from multiple marriages in order to bring loved ones together rather than tear them apart.

Lessons: Speak about the unspeakable early and often, and use a trust to keep your plan out of the public eye. Let your loved ones know the details of your plan so that they have time to come to terms with it before disaster strikes.

1920s Composer Helped Bring Down DOMA

Tin Pan Alley composer G.G. “Buddy” DeSylva couldn’t have imagined the effect he would have on gay marriage when he fathered a child with his secretary. After DeSylva’s death, his widow claimed that his “illegitimate”son had no right to renew the copyright of the deceased author, because the federal Copyright Act gave this right to the author’s “widow or children.”

His widow claimed “children” meant only children of marriage, but the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, saying California law applied because there was no federal law of domestic relations. Therefore, his child qualified under the more progressive California law, which allowed children born outside of marriage to inherit if the father had acknowledged them. DeSylva v. Ballentine. Citing this precedent, the U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), allowing married same-sex couples the 1,000+ rights and responsibilities of marriage under federal law. The full legal ramifications of this momentous decision will evolve over time. United States v. Windsor.

About the author:

John O’Grady, O’Grady Law Group, APC, is the Immediate Past Chair of BASF’s Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Section.