Brothers in dispute over Audrey Hepburn's handwritten Will

After years of wrangling, the sons of the late Hollywood actress Audrey Hepburn, have finally reached agreement on how to divide their Mother’s possessions.

The iconicHepburn, famed for her portrayal of Holly Golightly in the film Breakfast at Tiffany's and her later work as an ambassodor for UNICEF, passed away in 1993. Since then her two sons, Sean Ferrer and Luca Dotti, have been in dispute about how to distribute her memorabilia.

The Daily Mail obtained court papers which revealed that, in her handwritten Will, Ms Hepburn left her notable possessions to her sons to be split between them on a 50/50 basis. However, her will did not stipulate which specific items were to go to each of her sons. Although many parents when making a will trust their children to exercise common sense, it is not unusual for disputes to arise when gifts are made that are uncertain, open to interpretaion or require agreement to be reached. As a rule we therefore tend to advise our clients against making this time of will.

In 2015 Mr Ferrer began legal action against his younger half-brother Mr Dotti over the division of the memorabilia, which includes the actress’ ballet pumps, blue Givenchy dress, Burberry trench coat, and an annotated Breakfast at Tiffany’s script - which is expected to sell for around $100,000. It is not clear why legal action began or why the brothers were not successful at mediation other than the presumption that they simply did not agree on who would get what.

This case shows that despite a will having been made any ambiguity in its drafting can cause fundamantal problems and family disagreements. It is reported that following a trial Ferrer and Dotti signed a memorabilia deal. The deal stipulated that some of the items were to be sold at auction at Christie’s and the proceeds to be split 50/50 between the brothers. Christie’s has one year from the date of the deal to auction these items.

The brothers allocated the items into three categories:

- Pieces to be auctioned by Christies;

- Items they would each retain; and

- Items they already have in their possession.

If Audrey Hepburn had made it specifically clear in her will which items were to go to each son it is likely to have reduced the risks of potentially expensive and acrimonious legal proceedings arising. However it appears that the dispute goes deeper and it is reported that the brothers are still in the process of resolving other issues regarding their mother’s estate.  

The best advice to anyone making a will is to be as clear as possible and avoid ambiguity or uncertainty. Where an argument between beneficiaries does arise, the involvement of solicitors can often speed up the process of reaching an agreement before family rifts become too deep to be repaired.

So, if you find yourself in dispue about the terms of a will call our FREE inheritance helpline on 0808 139 1599 to discuss your options.