A new show premiered on the Reelz Channel this week called Celebrity Legacies, a documentary series highlighting the estates of famous deceased celebrities. The show explores a different celebrity’s estate plan every week, discussing their legacy, estate, and problems that arose after the celebrity’s death. It also explains how a celebrity’s estate can continue to increase after their death and why some deceased celebrities still make the “highest paid” lists years after they are gone.
Premiere Episode: James Gandolfini
The premiere episode of the series focused on the estate of James Gandolfini, and subsequent episodes include famous names like Anna Nicole Smith and Jim Morrison. Gandolfini died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age fifty-one in 2013 while on vacation in Italy with his son. The actor, known primarily for his work on the television show The Soproanos, left behind two children from two different marriages and a messy, largely unfinished estate plan.
Celebrity Legacies provided legal and financial commentary on the outcome of Gandolfini’s estate. Done as a “Band-Aid” measure after the birth of his daughter, Gandolfini relied primarily on his will for his estate plan instead of placing his assets in something more secure like a revocable living trust. As a result, his estate and the affairs of his family came under public scrutiny when his assets became public record in New York’s probate court.
Gandolfini’s estate was estimated between $70 million and $80 million at the time of his death, and it was divided amongst his family members as well as some close friends. However, he did not contemplate what he was going to do with his Italian properties or consider whether his children would be mature enough to handle their massive inheritances when they come of age at twenty-one.
Celebrity Legacies as a Teaching Tool
One of the great things about this new show on the Reelz Channel is that it can serve as a teaching tool for its viewers. Celebrity estate stories can be used to educate people, including families and professionals, about how celebrity errors in estate planning can help them avoid issues in their own plans. Most people think that celebrity estates could never be relatable to their own situations, but in reality many people make the exact same mistakes in their own estate plans. Regular families routinely face sibling squabbles, public court battles, and other issues that also arise in celebrity estates.
Gandolfini’s estate taught many important lessons for viewers in the premiere episode of Celebrity Legacies. He was only fifty-one years old when he died, and Gandolfini started planning his estate before he left for vacation – intending to finish when he returned. Like Gandolfini far too many people put off estate planning, and it can have tragic consequences for the rest of the family. His incomplete estate plan could have been avoided and all of the complications, publicity, and estate taxes could have also been sidestepped if he would have stopped procrastinating.
As obvious as it may seem, for most people it is not. In fact, as many as two-thirds of the U.S. population has neglected to fill out even a simple will. Hopefully, shows like Celebrity Legacies will highlight the dangers of putting off estate planning and help viewers avoid the same fate.