Leaving all the liquid assets to a single heir isn’t confirmation of a massive bequest. It’s often a signal that the estate’s real remaining value is sentimental at best.
So Gloria Vanderbilt did indeed leave her lavish Upper East Side apartment to her son in Long Island while Anderson Cooper, the other child she maintained a relationship with, ends up with everything else.
In those simple terms, the will confirms everything Cooper said all along. There’s no Vanderbilt trust fund left to pass on, no vast pile of cash.
We know this because Gloria’s will doesn’t take a lot of pains to circumvent estate tax or even probate. The assets pass straight through to her sons, individual to individual.
She wasn’t exactly broke. The apartment is easily worth $1 million and her liquid assets probably add up to that much on their own.
But that’s enough money to pay good lawyers. They evidently didn’t see any need to shift any property out of the taxable estate, which is one thing trusts do.
If she’d maintained, for example, $200 million in the bank, you can bet that money would already be in a revocable trust that took over on her death. The will would say that.
Factor out the famous names and this looks like any other retiree’s estate plan. There’s a house, some stuff and some kids.
The stuff needs to be handed over in its entirety or divided up. The motive isn’t so much dynastic perpetuation as cleaning the house so the estate can wind down.
Gloria’s will takes one of the simplest routes to that goal. She owned her co-op and that went to son Stan in Long Island. Everything else goes to Cooper.
Estranged son Chris was left out, which is good enough in New York State to formally disinherit him. There’s no “elective share” rule giving him a claim to override the will.
From outside, it looks like a 50-50 split. Stan gets the apartment, which was the only asset important enough for specific mention. Anderson gets everything else.
Maybe that “everything else” stretches all the way to $10 million, which (counting the apartment at roughly $1 million) is where the tax planners would have needed to worry about the total value of the estate. It could just as easily been closer to zero.
Admittedly, if there was a trust in place, it could distribute its own assets as its foundational documents dictate. But in that scenario, normal wills would sweep the estate into that trust and it would have been the one to inherit “everything else.”
The fact that Gloria evidently owned the apartment outright is another smoking gun. Manhattan real estate is exactly the kind of asset to put in at least a revocable trust, where it wouldn’t show up in the will.
Admittedly, there might still be a vast Vanderbilt empire ticking out so much cash behind the scenes that a $1 million apartment is barely a rounding error. But it’s extremely unlikely.
Gloria came into her trust decades ago. She used the money to start her business and ultimately to help pay the bills when the IRS and other creditors came around.
Any later bequests from relatives would be relatively small in today’s terms and would probably have run out by now.
Remember, the gilded age she grew up in was the 1920s. That’s beyond the typical lifespan of trusts created in those days, so it really isn’t useful to speculate about second-generation beneficiaries.
It’s a paradoxical and, from the outside, an empty question. If there is a lot of money left, it will be in the most efficient structures that money can buy. And if there isn’t, efficiency isn’t such a huge concern.
Efficient structures don’t leave $1 million apartments hanging for the will to resolve, much less leave the prospect open that enough wealth will be left in the estate to trigger more tax bills.
Gloria’s apartment was truly spectacular, though. Crowded with antiques that would make the auction houses salivate . . . unless the boys decide they want to keep some of it around.