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Estate

Book launch to be held at annual members reception

The front cover of Stephanie Gress’s new book. Image from Vanderbilt Museum

Stephanie Gress knows more about the history of William K. Vanderbilt II than most people. As director of curatorial affairs for the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum for eight years¸ she is the steward of Mr. Vanderbilt’s legacy, his estate, mansion and museum collections.

Using that extensive knowledge and a trove of rare photographs from the Vanderbilt archives, Gress created a richly illustrated book, Eagle’s Nest: The William K. Vanderbilt II Estate. Its cover photo, from the Vanderbilt Museum archives, is by the noted New York City photographer Drix Duryea. The picture shows the bell tower and one wing of the mansion in the late 1920s, before the Memorial Wing enclosed the courtyard.

The book was published June 1, by Arcadia Publishing in South Carolina, the leading local-history publisher in the United States. The Vanderbilt will celebrate the book’s official launch at its annual Members Reception on Sunday, June 28.

Gress noted that the release of the book is well-timed, as the development of the Eagle’s Nest estate is in its centennial decade: “This book tells readers about the Vanderbilt family, why Mr. Vanderbilt came here and built the estate, how the place changed over the years based on changes in his life, and how we use it today.”

Vanderbilt, known as Willie K., purchased the first parcel of what would become 43 acres for his Northport Bay waterfront estate in 1910, and hired the eminent New York City architectural firm of Warren & Wetmore to design and build it. The firm had designed Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan for Cornelius Vanderbilt’s New York Central Railroad. Cornelius was William’s great-grandfather.

Eagle’s Nest is the easternmost Gold Coast mansion on Long Island’s affluent North Shore. From 1910 to 1944, the palatial, 24-room, Spanish-Revival mansion was Willie K.’s summer hideaway. There he hosted intimate gatherings of Vanderbilt family members and close friends — including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, legendary golfer Sam Snead, and the Tiffanys.

“Mr. Vanderbilt embarked on many of his legendary world voyages from Eagle’s Nest,” Gress said, “along with a 50-person crew and a few, fortunate invited passengers.” During his travels, she said, he collected natural-history and marine specimens and ethnographic artifacts from around the globe.

With the help of scientists and experts from the America Museum of Natural History, he created exhibits in the galleries at the estate to showcase his collections.  Mr. Vanderbilt died in 1944. His wife Rosamund continued to live in the mansion until her death in 1947.  Vanderbilt’s will bequeathed his estate and museum to Suffolk County. In 1950, it was opened to the public as the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum. The estate is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Much to the credit of Willie K., Eagle’s Nest continues to fulfill his intended mission,” Gress wrote in the conclusion of the book. “Visitors from all over the world come to see one of the few remaining Long Island Gold Coast estates with its original furnishings. His collections remain on display and they continue to fascinate and entertain.”

Eagle’s Nest is available for purchase on the Arcadia Publishing, Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites, in the Vanderbilt Museum Gift Shop and in local bookstores.

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By Linda M. Toga, Esq.

The Facts:  I am the owner of a family-operated business. My wife and my son John are employed by the business. My other son, Tony, has no interest in being involved with the business. When my wife and I die, I want John to inherit the business, which is my largest asset. However, I want Tony to inherit assets of equal value.

The Question: Are there specific issues I need to address when developing an estate plan?

The Answer: Absolutely. For starters, you need to take an objective look at your business and decide if the business can continue to operate without you.

Even though your wife and son are employed by the business, if you are the person with the knowledge, expertise and contacts upon which the business depends, there may not be much value to the business after your death. In that case, having John inherit the business may result in him actually being short changed with respect to your estate.

If the business cannot thrive without you, instead of inheriting a valuable asset, John could find himself struggling to keep the business afloat and possibly be faced with winding down the business and looking for a new job.

If you determine that the future success of the business is not dependent upon your involvement, you need to determine the best method for calculating the value of the business upon your death. The valuation should take into consideration how John’s involvement with the business may have increased its value over the years.

If, for example, John worked without pay or at a reduced salary, or if he worked more hours than nonfamily employees because it was understood that he would one day inherit the business, then the value of the business should be adjusted down to reflect that fact. If it is not adjusted, John will inherit a business whose value was in part created by him, and Tony will inherit equally valuable assets without having contributed to their value.

Once you have determined how the value of the business will be calculated, you need to consider the value of all of your other assets. If the business is your most valuable asset but the combined value of your other assets is comparable to the value of the business, you can simply leave the business to John and the rest of your estate to Tony.

However, if there is little else in your estate other than your business, such a distribution will not result in equal shares passing to your sons. To address this problem, you can buy a life insurance policy and name Tony as the beneficiary. If you buy a policy with a death benefit that is comparable to the value of your business, when you pass Tony will receive funds equal in value to the business that you leave to John.

Linda M. Toga, Esq. provides legal services in the areas of litigation, estate planning and real estate from her East Setauket office.