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James Gandolfini's will leaves most of estate to minor children

When actor James Gandolfini died from a heart attack last month at the age of 51, many of his fans in Minnesota were stunned. As it turns out, the star of "The Sopranos" had planned for the possibility that something like this could happen.

News media recently reported that Gandolfini had left behind a will giving detailed instructions on how to distribute his estate, which is estimated to be worth $70 million. The will was dated Dec. 19, 2012, exactly six months before his death.

The will leaves most of the estate to Gandolfini's 13-year-old son and his infant daughter. His son will get access to a trust fund after he turns 21-years-old, will inherit much of the actor's personal property and have a right to purchase the actor's apartment. The two children, who are half-siblings, will share family property in Italy once they have both turned 25. His will requested but did not demand that they keep the property in the family as long as possible.

Gandolfini's will referred to "other provisions" that would provide for his wife, but also specified that the remainder of his estate would be divided between her, their young daughter and Gandolfini's two sisters. The will also makes bequests of $500,000 each to his nieces, as well as large bequests to a personal assistant, several friends and a godson.

After a person's dies and leaves behind a will, probate court determines if the person fulfilled all the necessary formalities in executing the will. If the will is determined to be valid, the court then oversees the process of paying off any debts and distributing the estate according to the will. There are many cases where heirs or beneficiaries challenge a will's validity through legal actions known as a will contest.

A well-planned will can minimize this kind of challenge, and some types of estate planning allow the estate to bypass probate altogether. However, the process can always be challenging. Minnesota residents who stand to inherit wealth should get help understanding their legal rights.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "James Gandolfini Leaves Majority of $70 Million Estate to Son, Daughter," Erin Carlson, July 3, 2013

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