The acting world lost one of its brightest lights when Sopranos star James Gandolfini died of a sudden heart attack while touring Italy with his family last month. Gandolfini was the iconic face of HBO's acclaimed drama, which made cable television, rather than the movies, the place for serious actors to "make their bones." Gandolfini himself became the model for a new breed of anti-heroes like Breaking Bad's Walter White and Mad Men's Don Draper. Few critics would dispute The Sopranos place as one of the greatest dramas in TV history.
Hollywood stars have always been famous for bringing home the big bucks, and Gandolfini was no exception. He fought as hard as a real mobster to maximize his pay. But he was legendarily generous, too. Co-star Steve Schirripa, who played Bobby Baccalieri on The Sopranos, recalled that in Season Four, Gandolfini gave each of his co-stars $33,000 for "sticking by him." And after holding up filming on Season Five over a pay dispute — which reportedly doubled his own salary to more than $800,000 per episode — Gandolfini included a clause in his deal making sure everyone else who worked on the show got paid retroactively for what they missed during the standoff. Not just a "goodfella" — a good guy.
Apparently, though, Gandolfini never had that all-important sit-down with his consigliores about estate taxes. That means the capos at the IRS are about to give his heirs a shakedown that would make Salvatore "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero gulp in disbelief.
If you know nothing about estate taxes, remember this. You can bequeath as many millions as you like to your spouse, completely tax-free. Anything else above a "unified credit exemption amount" (currently $5.25 million per person) is subject to a 40% tax. That's a cut approaching mob-level "protection."
So, early reports suggest that Gandolfini's estate was worth in the neighborhood of $70 million. (That's a lot of gabagool for the son of a bricklayer and high-school lunch lady!) He left 80% to his sisters, his 13-year-old son, and his nine-month-old daughter. Tax on those bequests could reach up to $30 million. He left the remaining 20%, after taxes, to his wife Deborah Lin. That means she could wind up with 20% of just $40 million, rather than 20% of $70 million she could have enjoyed with better planning. In case you're like Paulie Walnuts and math ain't your strong suit, that's a six million dollar mistake. No wonder New York estate-planning attorney William Zabel (author of The Rich Die Richer and You Can Too), called Gandolfini's will a "disaster" and a "catastrophe"!
What's worse, the tax itself is due nine months from Gandolfini's June 16th death. And, in another eerie similarity to the Mob, the knee-busters at the IRS want "cash." (They'll take a payment plan if they have to, but they won't be very happy about it.) That means Gandolfini's heirs may be forced to sell assets, perhaps at fire-sale prices, to come up with the money, making the loss even worse.
We realize you may not have to worry about the IRS pinching $30 million from your estate. But James Gandolfini's untimely passing reminds us just how important proactive planning can be to your family's future. So here's an offer you can't refuse: call us now for the plan you need before the IRS takes a whacks at you. And if you already have the plan you need, is there someone just like you who could use the same savings? We're here for them, too!
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