What Hollywood Icon Audrey Hepburn can Teach Us About Estate Planning.

When thinking about Wills, Trusts, Executors or any other Estate Planning related matters, Audrey Hepburn does not automatically spring to mind. In addition to her roles in films such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and My Fair Lady, Audrey Hepburn is best known for her inner and outer beauty, her charm, elegant demeanour and her global humanitarian efforts on behalf of children’s rights. But what can we learn from the icon from Hollywood’s Golden Age about estate planning?

When Hepburn passed away in 1993, she was survived by two sons and had an estate plan in place to help protect and effectively distribute her wealth in line with her wishes. According to news reports, the actress had a storage locker in Los Angeles full of valuable memorabilia and personal items, such as clothing, awards, movie posters, etc. All of these items were left to her two sons to divide equally between themselves. However, she failed to specify exactly who would get what. Therein lies the problem. The two sons could not agree on how the priceless content within the storage unit should be split. As such, the items spent many years sitting in storage, gathering dust, until the brothers eventually asked a judge to help divide the items. According to the Daily Mail, the matter was only settled in 2015, with the brothers splitting the contents into three categories: items that would be given to the Christie’s Auction House, items that they would each keep, and pieces that they already had in their possession. Any profits and unsold items would then be split between them equally.

What is the moral of the story in all this? Firstly, it is not advisable to leave any personal items to a group of individuals, who are then required to divide and distribute them amongst themselves as they choose. Even if your personal effects may not be as valuable as Audrey Hepburn’s, you need to be specific on who gets what to avoid unnecessary conflict. The more specific you are, the easier it will be for your loved ones. You can choose from various options on how to pass on personal effects. For example, you can gift a specific item and then leave a written note explaining your intent. You can also appoint a person, such as an executor or trustee, to decide who gets what. There is also the option to set up a system where, under the supervision of an executor or trustee, each appointed beneficiary takes a turn in choosing an item until all have been selected. Be as creative as you like, but avoid ambiguity.

How have you set up your estate and handled this aspect of your planning? Do you know whether you have given specific instructions regarding your personal effects? The case of Audrey Hepburn’s estate is a lesson to us all. It clearly demonstrates the need to take proactive steps to be as straightforward as possible in our estate plans, indicating who is to receive what and not leaving this decision up to our loved ones. Unfortunately, when one passes away they are subject to numerous costs including; estate duty tax, capital gains tax, administration costs, executors fees, masters fees, transfer costs and trustee fees for minors. Ensuring you dictate how your assets are to be distributed to your heirs/legatees is step 1 of the estate plan. Step 2 will be to ensure that you have covered the costs of passing these assets on to your heirs/legatees. PBA Financial Advisors can assist you in planning your estate and ensuring that all costs are taken care of so that your loved ones can mourn in peace.

Contact us:

Phone: 011 803 9686

Email: vivian@pbafsa.co.za or bev@pbafsa.co.za

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