Texas Tech University

6 costly estate-planning minefields, and how to avoid them

Consumer Reports

April 15, 2015

Consumer Reports - Over the years many celebrities have provided cautionary estate-planning lessons, and actor James Gandolfini, who died in June 2013 at age 51, is no exception. The actor, known for portraying mob boss Tony Soprano, left a portion of his estate, widely estimated at $70 million, to relatives and friends through his will, which became public and was criticized as being badly constructed. At least Gandolfini had an estate plan; fewer and fewer Americans do. In 1998, 61 percent of Americans 55 and older had a will or trust. In 2012, only about 54 percent did, says a study by Texas Tech University.

Drafting a plan doesn't have to cost tens of thousands of dollars. You can do it yourself with document-writing software that costs less than $100. "DIY plans are better than nothing, but they won't address your individual needs," says Russell James, an estate-planning attorney and a professor in the department of personal financial planning at Texas Tech University.

Have questions? Professor James has more advice for estate planning.