Most people would probably be ecstatic to learn they inherited a $65 million Robert Rauschenberg bald eagle sculpture. However, the excitement can easily deaden when there’s an additional surprise attached- an astronomical $29 million tax bill!

That’s what happened to Nina Sundell and Antonio Homem, the children of Illeana Sonnabend, a prominent New York art dealer who left her children the majestic “Canyon” masterpiece. The 20th century artwork was initially valued at zero because it cannot be legally sold. Federal law prohibits the sale of a live or in this case, a stuffed bald eagle. Mrs. Sonnabend and the creator of “Canyon” managed to bypass this restriction, but the heirs are not so lucky. The IRS has appraised it at $65 million and slapped on an extra $11.7 million in penalties for the allegedly inaccurate appraisal.

The heirs have already paid over a staggering $471 million in federal and state estate taxes for the billion-dollar art collection. Approximately $600 million worth of art has already been sold to pay the taxes owed. However, the heirs are drowning in a financial mess because they cannot afford the taxes on the sculpture.

Such a nightmare could have been avoided by planning ahead.

In South Florida, proper estate planning and the utilization of appropriate measures in wealth transfer can protect assets and reduce estate taxes. We can’t avoid the tight grip of the IRS, but we can reduce the burden of exorbitant taxes with a little smart planning from your South Florida estate planning attorney. Make a smart, bold move and contact your attorney today.

If you have family, friends or even a charitable intent, the absence of an estate plan is inexcusable. For more information on successful Florida estate planning and probate techniques, please contact the South Florida law firm of Wild Felice & Partners, P.A. at 954-944-2855 or via email at to schedule your free consultation.

It’s a Wild world. Are you protected?