A large percentage of adults fail to create a will, leaving many to believe that simply recording their final wishes is enough to protect their estates for their intended beneficiaries. What those who create a will or estate plan on their own do not realize is that seemingly minor omissions can lead to major problems. Before actor James Gandolfini passed away, he created a will that gave 80% of his estate to his sisters and infant daughter. In what the New York Daily News referred to as a tax disaster, Gandolfini’s estate plan’s distribution created a situation that left the actor’s beneficiaries with an estate tax debt of approximately $30 million. While the average person does not leave estates that are valuable enough to lead to a massive tax debt, the government can still benefit more than your heirs if you do not get help from a professional.

 Your Estate Pays the Price

If you are a person who is impacted by estate taxes, your estate pays rather than your heirs.  However, this does not mean that your heirs are unaffected. The money, a flat percentage of your estate’s value, is deducted before your heirs receive the property left to them. In the case of James Gandolfini, his estate was worth approximately $70 million at the time of his death with percentages of that estate meant to be divided between his sisters, infant daughter, and wife. Due to the estate taxes that must be paid, instead of receiving percentages of a $70 million estate the family will only share the $40 million left after taxes. If the estate must be liquidated to raise cash to pay the debt, the government may also benefit from fees or penalties associated with the delayed payment.

 Source of Federal Income

Even though most estates do not have to pay taxes to the federal government, the estates that do pay contribute a substantial amount of money to the United States federal government. The amount of money the government receives annually is approximately $19 billion, and that income exceeds the combined yearly cost of operating the Centers for Disease Control and Food and Drug Administration. Experts claim that without the billions injected into the federal government each year, deficit reduction on a national level would become increasingly difficult.

The Local Court System Benefits

Estates that do not have a will or require extended time in probate or court-supervised administration benefit the court system and local government. The process of California probate and all associated costs are set by state law, becoming costlier as the case increases in complexity. An estate can expect to pay a percentage of the its total value with issues such as appraisals or will disputes leading to additional costs in the form of filing fees and litigation.  The more issues an estate has, the greater the state government and court system can expect to benefit.

 Getting Professional Advice

Creating a will is a time-consuming process and once a will is finished, a person must still periodically review or update the document. MMZ Law realizes that a flawed will can lead to more problems at a time when a family is most vulnerable. If you or a loved one is concerned about their existing estate plan or needs to create a will for the first time, our estate and trust attorneys can provide you with the legal advice you need. Contact us today at our conveniently located Claremont, California office and schedule a consultation.



341 W. 1st St. Suite 100
Claremont, CA 91711

MARIVEL M. ZIALCITA is the founder of MMZ LAW, A Professional Corporation, where she practices in the areas of Elder Law – Medi-Cal Planning Asset Protection, Trust & Estate, Special Needs, Conservatorship, Trust Administration, & Probate. Ms. Zialcita is a frequent speaker on trust and estate matters and holds memberships in the State Bar of California, Trust and Estate Section, The San Bernardino County Bar Association, Wealth Counsel and Elder Counsel. She currently assists in the pro bono legal services program at the James L. Brulte Senior Center in Rancho Cucamonga, California. She is based in Claremont but assists clients throughout Southern California.

This information is educational information only and not legal advice.