Celebrity Estate Planning - Audrey Hepburn - Episode 56
Hey there, Legal Tea Listeners! This is your host, Jenny Rozelle. Today, we’re on the “estate planning of the rich and famous” topic and today’s episode is on the iconic Audrey Hepburn. She’s the kind that certainly does not need a description of “who” she is – but maybe for some young listeners: if you don’t know the name, you need to pause this episode and google her name. Or ask your parents or grandparents maybe. Anyway, before we dive into what happened estate-wise following her passing, let’s talk about Audrey, as a person, first. According to her Wikipedia page, Audrey was a “British actress and humanitarian, and is recognized as both a film and fashion icon.” Oh, like the Breakfast at Tiffany’s opening dress that Audrey is wearing – that black dress, slicked back hair, pearl necklace, and long cigarette holder. You can’t walk around on Halloween without seeing someone dressed up like Audrey and the “black dress” outfit. Actually, more on that black dress later…
Okay! Let’s dive in.
According to Biography.com, Audrey was born in Brussels, Belgium in 1929. When World War II broke out in 1939, Audrey’s mother moved Audrey to Netherlands hoping that the country would be neutral. However, in 1940, Germany invaded Netherlands. Audrey, along with her family, was significantly affected by the War – her Uncle was killed; her and her family became quite malnourished; etc. Audrey escaped out of the Second World war, but did so by developing a blood disorder and respiratory issues directly due to the malnutrition. After the war ended in 1945, Audrey (and her mother and siblings) moved to Amsterdam. It was around then that Audrey made her debut in film. That was the film, “One Wild Oat.”
At the young age of 22, she went to New York to be featured on the Broadway show, “Gigi.” That was when she really started to gain traction in her acting career. Two years after her role in “Gigi” she starred in the film, “Roman Holiday.” According to Biography.com, that is when she “took the world by storm.” Shortly after “Roman Holiday” she starred in the Broadway Show, “Ondine” where she met (and ended up marrying) the actor, Mel Ferrer. They got married in Switzerland in 1954.
A handful of years later and after starring in a few “big name” films, her and Mel had a child named Sean. Another handful of years later, namely in 1967/1968ish, Mel and Audrey separated and ended up divorcing; but, in 1969, she ended up marrying another gentleman, Andrea Dotti – and the following year, 1970, Andrea and Audrey had a child named Luca. However, 12 years later, Andrea and Audrey separated and divorced too.
After her acting career came to a close (and after so many starring roles – and earning lots of awards), Audrey’s focus shifted to humanitarian work. According to Biography.com, “she became a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF in the late 1980s. … Making more than 50 trips, Hepburn visited UNICEF projects in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America.”
Sadly, Audrey began battling colon cancer – and ultimately died on January 20, 1993 in Switzerland. She was 63 years old at the time of her passing. Following her passing, an estate plan, if that’s what we want to call it, was located. She had written her own Will and boy, did her Estate pay big time for that poor decision! By the way, according to Celebrity Net Worth, Audrey’s Estate was worth around $55 Million Dollars.
According to a blog by the Law Offices of DuPont & Blumenstiel, Audrey, like I said, had written her Will and in the Will, it said Sean and Luca were 50/50 beneficiaries of her Estate. Instead of being nice and specific, she too-simplistically gave the two sons authority to “work out” who got what of her possessions. As the blog states, she did so “presumably relying on her sons to be able to come to an amicable agreement.” You know, even for my clients, I often share that they can be specific about personal property/personal possessions, if they want, but considering it was Audrey Hepburn and her stuff was uber-valuable, that would have been absolutely critical.
So, of course, an amicable agreement did not take place and ultimately, they had to get the Court involved to have a Judge decide who-gets-what. Of course, you know what would be last thing Audrey would have wanted to happen – to make her sons have to spend time, effort, and energy in cleaning up her lack of estate plan. Like so many of my own clients say, she probably thought, “Oh they’ll be fine – they’ll be able to work it out.” Famous last words, I tell ya… I say that because when you look up what happened to Audrey’s estate after she passed, basically everything is about this argument between the boys regarding her possessions.
According to the Daily Mail, the boys finally settled the possessions dispute … in 2015. Oh, you know – over twenty years AFTER Audrey had passed away. That is CRAZY! Anyway, the settlement, sort of, organized the possessions in the following manner: 1) items to be given to the auction house (to be sold); 2) items that the boys would keep; and 3) items that they had already in their own possession. So, for that first group, the items to be given to the auction house and sold, those items got auctioned off in 2017 and according to the Washington Times, Christie’s Auction made Audrey’s Estate a whopping $6.2 Million Dollars (that ultimately the boys split). Remember when I mentioned way at the beginning of this episode … about her black dress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? Well, THAT was one of the many items that got auctioned off and it sold for …. Are you ready … over $900,000! Specifically, it was $920,909! Shew!
On many websites when I was doing my research, it said that Audrey’s estate still has ongoing issues. It didn’t really go into much more, but I’m wondering if things still are not yet done. That’s not really the legacy I’m sure Audrey was anticipating leaving for her children – though, speaking of legacy, her son, Sean, founded the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund and UNICEF founded the Audrey Hepburn Society. Like I talked about earlier, she really did a lot of humanitarian work – so establishing these two organizations in her honor, I’m should she WOULD be so proud of. Actually, according to Celebrity Net Worth, the Audrey Hepburn Society (the one founded by UNICEF) “champions major donors and has raised nearly $100 Million Dollars to date.” That’s incredible!
You know, I hope there’s always something to learn from these episodes – and today, I think I’m going to talk about personal property distribution … like, methods of distribution … because that’s where Audrey slipped up. Of course, this applies to people like you and I, too, because believe it or not, most of us have something possession-wise that is somewhat valuable. Whether it’s your wedding ring/jewelry … or tools … or guns … or vehicles … or antiques … etc. Those things have a value. You see, the hard thing about Audrey’s estate plan, or lack thereof, is she said everything to her two boys in equal shares. But what does that even mean? Does that mean equal number, like quantity, of items? Does that mean equal value? And then, how do you value something that sometimes feels … difficult to value? Like, Audrey’s black dress in Breakfast atTiffany’s – there’s only one of those, so how the heck do you value that?
Or another perfect example is coins or antiques … I was just working on a little project for an estate case I’m involved in (where someone passed away) and the gentleman that passed away had lots of coins. When I say coins, I’m talking about silver dollars, half dollars, unique coins, etc. etc. Because there’s some disagreeing going on with this family, I’m thinking that we’re going to have to seek a professional appraisal of these coins – but valuing things like that is hard. You’re, sort of, stuck with what would a willing and able buyer be willing to pay you for that? The deceased person may have thought it was worth a lot of money – but, if there is not a buyer for that much, if another buyer is willing to give you half, do you take it? So, is THAT the value? It’s hard, right?
So, when you think about this type of asset – personal property/personal possessions – how can you incorporate wishes in your estate plan for it? Well, there are three ways, so let’s chat about them:
1. First is the Audrey Hepburn style. This style is the “my beneficiaries can figure it out later” style. Will they? Well, it WILL get figured out – whether it’s by the beneficiaries or a JUDGE, like in Audrey’s case, sort of depends on the beneficiaries and how amicable they’ll stay. Unfortunately, we sometimes don’t know whether they’ll stay amicable or not … until it’s too late.
2. Second is specifically designate items to people in a Will or Trust. If you have any specific items that you want to go to certain people, you can actually designate them in your Will or Trust. So, you can put “I want my wedding ring to go to [fill in the blank]…” for example. The pro about this method – it’s nice and clean, and inside your document. The con is if you ever want to change it, you have to amend your documents (which means you’re likely going to incur a fee in doing so).
3. Third is specifically designate items to people on a Memorandum of Personal Property. You can have your Will or Trust specifically reference a free-standing document called a Memorandum of Personal Property, which lists out items and “who” they should go to. The pro is that it’s easy to keep updated, because all you have to do is keep the Memorandum updated (which is easier to change than doing a new Will or amending a Trust); the con about this way is … what if something magically (wink, wink) happens to said Memorandum? The attorney may have a copy of the Memorandum, but what if the deceased person updated it and didn’t provide us with an updated version? Just a lot of room for funny business to occur, you see?
As we wrap this episode up, my message to you is to lean on your estate planning attorney on “how” to tackle personal possessions. That’s what we are here for – to guide you and to recommend best courses of action, whether that is about how money is inherited or personal property/possessions, like the topic today. Okay, let’s wrap this episode up – next week we’re back to a “cautionary tale” episode where we talk about real-life clients, real-life cases that I, or my office, have worked on. During that episode, we’re going to be talking about treading lightly when you take legal advice … from non-lawyers, EVEN when they mean well. We’ll dive into that next Tuesday, Legal Tea Listeners! Until then, take care and be well!