Your Obituary: How Much Money You Left Your Favorite Niece

more+
less-

Do you want to be remembered for your accomplishments or for how much money you left your favorite niece?

When Sopranos star James Gandolfini tragically passed away in June, the intimate details of his estate plan made headlines.  Within days of his death, most major media outlets reported that under Mr. Gandolfini’s Will, his nieces Laura Antonacci and Jenna Antonacci each got $500,000, his son Michael and 8 month old daughter Liliana each got a 50% interest in his house in Italy, his personal assistant Trixie Flynn Bourne and his friend Thomas Richardson each got $200,000, and the list goes on.  The media sensationalized these gifts, which overshadowed any coverage of Mr. Gandolfini’s brilliant acting career.

Yet many famous people pass away without a peep in the news about their last wishes, so why were Mr. Gandolfini’s so public?

The answer is that other celebrities and public figures had a living trust, which usually remains private and can be shielded from public eyes, whereas Mr. Gandolfini only had a Will, which becomes a publicly available document as part of the probate process.

Even if you are not a famous actor, you might find comfort in knowing that your next door neighbor won’t be able to find out who you gave your wedding ring to, and how much money you gave to your favorite charity.  Also, the privacy of your beneficiaries is kept intact with a living trust, whereas Mr. Gandolfini’s nieces Laura and Jenna Antonacci (not famous actresses) had their names being thrown out by every news outlet for having received a windfall of $500,000 from their famous uncle.

Although the estate planning process is a private one, if you use a Will instead of a trust then after you die your gift to that favorite relative might be what you’re remembered for.