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Houston Estate Planning Law Blog

AUCTION OF SUICIDAL MAN’S ESTATE FINALLY SET IN MOTION

The last two years have been a difficult one for the widow of an elderly Ohio man who killed himself in 2011. Some people here in Texas may remember hearing the story about the man on the news. Just prior to killing himself, he cut the locks to cages on his property, freeing the exotic animals inside. It took two days for local law enforcement to round up the animals, many of which needed to be killed because of the danger they posed to the community.

Much like the police, the man’s widow also had some rounding-up to do when it came to his estate. He had left behind an enormous collection of vehicles–everything from motorcycles to a hovercraft–horse-back riding equipment, and other animals. Though still grieving, she had the enormous task of figuring out what to do with his remaining belongings. According to reports from around the time of his death, the two had become estranged, and she may have been left with little direction as to how he wanted his estate distributed. In the end, she felt that an auction would be best.

It’s taken nearly a year to gather and identify the items going up for bid; but with the help of an auction house owner, the estate is finally ready to be sold. “She’s spent day and night assembling these things. It’s all a part of settling the estate,” explains the auction owner in a recent interview. It’s being seen as another step now to moving on–something many of our readers can relate to having had to go through similar processes with their own deceased love one’s estate.

While some people may specify in their estate plans that their belongings be auctioned, others may want these items to stay in the family or be donated to charitable organizations. It’s no surprise that having clear instructions in your will can make sure that your this happens and that your final wishes are carried out exactly as you wanted.

Source: The Columbus Dispatch, “Zanesville’s exotic animal owners’ estate going on block,” Eric Lyttle, Aug. 4, 2013

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HOW ESTATE TAXES MAY HARM GANDOLFINI’S WILL INTENTIONS

When 51-year-old actor James Gandolfini died suddenly in Italy in June, a nation mourned. Best known for his role as the ruthless mobster on “The Sopranos,” in real life, he was quite the opposite.

But despite leaving a detailed will, second looks at how he divided his estate has some people here in Texas, as well as others across the nation, cringing. That’s because, as some experts have pointed out, Gandolfini’s will does not take advantage of current estate tax laws. In the end, the deceased actor may pay out more to the IRS than his beneficiaries–something he may not have intended when he first drafted the will.

Gandolfini’s major mistake was that he only left 20 percent of his estate to his wife. Federal law currently allows unlimited tax-free transfers to spouses; but because Gandolfini left a majority of his estate to his infant daughter and a son from a previous marriage, almost 80 percent of the assets covered by the will may be subject to both state and federal tax laws.  As our readers can imagine, this may not have been foreseen by the actor prior to his death.

While most of our Texas readers will want to make their wills as tax efficient as possible before they pass on, this may not have been Gandolfini’s thoughts. He may have wanted to ensure that his children were properly taken care of by their inheritance. But as we’ve mentioned to our readers on several occasions, this can be done through trusts as well, which will not only provide financial security for beneficiaries but avoid estate taxes as well.

Just this story alone is a great example of why speaking with an attorney is a good idea when preparing your end-of-life documents. While mistakes can be made by even the most well-informed of people, having the right help at your side can sometimes mitigate these mistakes so that they don’t get passed on to your beneficiaries in the end.

Source: CNBC News, “Gandolfini’s will a case study on what not to do,” Kelley Holland, July 26, 2013

Continue reading: HOW ESTATE TAXES MAY HARM GANDOLFINI’S WILL INTENTIONS

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