Jul 8th 2013
By Teresa Ambord
He meant to share the wealth . . . evidently. But the will left by The Sopranos' lead actor James Gandolfini is causing attorneys to scratch their heads. Some can't help but wonder – did the man who accumulated an estate worth about $70 million seek any legal advice at all before making a will that's a "nightmare?"
Last month while Gandolfini and his family attended a film festival in Rome, the fifty-one-year-old actor died of a massive heart attack. In the weeks following his death, the terms of his will made it clear: his nice fat fortune was about to be emaciated. Because of the way the actor left his money, the IRS appears to be the single largest benefactor, taking almost half of Gandolfini's amassed wealth.
The will, filed in Manhattan Surrogate Court, left 80 percent of the money to his sisters and his nine-month-old daughter. That money will be subject to the 55 percent death tax, which calculates to over $30 million going to the IRS. Only the remaining 20 percent is left to his wife, Deborah Lin.
Making it even worse for Lin, the will also states the shares will be paid out after the tax bill is settled. Twenty percent of the pre-tax amount would have been $14 million, but because of the after-tax stipulation in the will, she will get closer to $8 million. Gandolfini's sisters and infant daughter will divide 80 percent of the remaining $40 million.
Assets for Sale
Like many wealthy individuals, Gandolfini's assets were mostly nonliquid. This means the family will be scrambling to sell off his properties to pay the tax bill. As of now, the exact size of his estate isn't known, because the inventory of assets doesn't need to be completed until December.
Estate attorney William Zabel told New York Daily News reporters, "It's a nightmare from a tax standpoint." The estate tax isn't due right now, but by early next year, a tax bill of roughly $30 million will be due and payable. "The government doesn't accept the fact that it's difficult to come up with the money. They can get an extension of time to pay the entire amount, but they're going to have to pay a substantial amount in nine months."
Some have suggested the sisters could renounce their shares of the estate, causing the money to pass directly to Lin and avoid the death tax.
Other Points of Interest
There are some brighter spots for Gandolfini's heirs. He left a $7 million life insurance policy naming his son Michael, age thirteen, as the beneficiary. This money will not be subject to estate tax. Also, before his death, Gandolfini set up separate trusts for his wife and son.
Then there are ongoing royalties from the actor's long film and TV career. It's unclear at this time whether those royalties will become part of the estate or be added to the established trusts. If the royalties are scheduled to go into the estate, this money will also be subject to the death tax.
By at least one definition found online, "bada bing" implies help from an older relative, or to be more precise, "Your uncle will make your day!" Maybe so. But one thing is certain – the helpful uncle in this scenario isn't Uncle Sam.