She is one of the richest women in Spain with a net worth estimated at nearly $4.9 billion. Her castles are filled with hundreds of paintings by old masters such as Goya, Velásquez and Titian. She owns Christopher Columbus's first map of America. With seven duchess titles, 22 countess titles and 24 marquesa titles, she has more royal titles than any other noble on earth. Among her quirky royal privileges, she does not have to kneel before the pope and she may ride into the cathedral in Seville on horseback.
At the age of 85, the Duchess of Alba, Maria del Rosario Cayetana Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Francisca Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva, has the means to do pretty much anything she wishes.
Yet when it comes to marrying her 61-year old longtime boyfriend, Alfonso Díez, her children would simply not allow it. The couple originally planned to marry in 2008 and Díez reportedly signed an agreement renouncing any claim to the Duchess's estate. Yet her six grown kids were distraught and went so far as to ask the King of Spain to give their mother a call and talk her out of the marriage. The Duchess was quoted as saying: "The tough part was that my children didn't understand and they got quite angry with me."
Family fears and frustrations
It is not uncommon for adult children to become protective and suspicious when it comes to the affairs of their aging (and particularly wealthy) parents. There is naturally a fear that your mother or father will be taken advantage of, especially when there is a fortune involved. From the parent's perspective, it can be frustrating to feel that your children do not trust the decisions you wish to make for your own life. (Especially for the Duchess, who archly points out that while she has never divorced, all six of her know-it-all kids have.)
The first husband of the Duchess (and father of her six kids) died in 1972 and she remarried in 1978. At the time, the Spanish media expressed outrage over the Duchess's choice — a former priest, much younger than her and of illegitimate birth. Yet the Duchess's second marriage lasted 23 years until he died in 2001
The pre-inheritance plan
Determined not to let her children stand in the way of marital bliss, the Duchess has chosen to allay their fears of a gold-digging stepdad by dividing up her enormous property and transferring the wealth to her six kids and eight grandchildren in advance of her September wedding. In addition to property throughout Spain, artwork and other treasures, each of the heirs will receive a palace of their own.
You don't need to have billions to face the same kind of stress in your own family. All it takes is for mom to bring home a new boyfriend to set everyone on edge. If you are the one experiencing a late-life romance, take a tip from the Duchess of Alba and consider settling your estate before saying "I do".
- Tip #1: Be careful about joint ownership
Many people choose to add their spouse or a child as "joint tenants" of their home, cottage (or palace!) to make a smooth transition upon their death and avoid estate taxes. However, while this may seem like a straightforward solution, if the details are not carefully handled, joint ownership can lead to unintended consequences such as a deemed disposition when the joint owner is added, issues of primary residency for tax purposes, control over the asset during your lifetime, creditor claims if a joint owner files for bankruptcy, and subsequent inheritance in the event of your joint owner's death. (Also see Tip #5!)
- Tip #2: Gifting your assets
Perhaps the nicest part of a pre-inheritance plan is being able to see your heirs enjoy the benefits of their inheritance. The downside is that tax authorities will deem gifting an asset to an individual as a sale; therefore, you will be liable for paying tax on any capital gains. Also, be aware that if you gift an asset to a spouse, a minor child or a grandchild and the asset continues to earn an income, the "income attribution" rule means that you will still be holding the tax-bag for that income. If you're looking for a nice tax benefit, consider gifting some of your assets to a registered charity.
- Tip #3: Establish a living trust
An "inter vivos" trust, also known as a "living trust" is an account set up to hold assets separately from your personal estate and ensure a crystal clear succession plan. This is ideal for property you wish to keep in your family, though the process of setting up a trust can be slightly complicated and incur fees as well as taxes. Control over the palace, cottage or portfolio you put within the trust is dictated by your trust instructions, which are executed by a third-party trustee.
- Tip #4: Add a spousal trust to your will
Now that she has taken care of her kids, the Duchess of Alba has likely retained a modest portion of her estate on which she and her new much-younger hubby will live. She would be wise to amend her will to preserve this portion for Alfonso by way of a spousal trust. When the Duchess dies, a spousal trust could allow her husband to continue to live on her property and receive any income and dividends that are generated by the estate. She could structure the conditions so that Alfonso would not be able to touch the capital nor sell any assets and once he dies or remarries, the whole of the Duchess's estate could then pass directly to her children. In this day of blended families, the spousal trust is an important move for any woman who wants to protect her assets for her own children.
- Tip #5: Get professional help
Don't think you can just jot down a list of your wishes or make a videotaped 'will' and everything will fall into place. Estate plans and taxes are not simple and the more assets, locations and heirs involved, the trickier it gets. Even if you just have a family home or a few special items you wish to pass on to your kids, it's good to get the help of a financial adviser who can help you make a proper plan that minimizes taxes and will stand the test of time.
Settle the estate and find your bliss
Having lived a life of posh and privilege, the Duchess seems quite comfortable with passing on her wealth to her children and grandchildren. Sharing a quiet life with a man she loves clearly makes her happier than any monetary possession. As she was quoted saying earlier this year, "Alfonso doesn't want anything. All he wants is me." For the lucky Duchess, that is worth all the riches of Spain.
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Nothing contained herein is intended to provide personalized financial, legal or tax advice. Before implementing any financial strategy, you should obtain information and advice from your financial, legal and/or tax advisers who are fully aware of your individual circumstances.