One of the most important aspects of estate planning is being absolutely thorough. It may not be enough to consider your financial accounts and most valuable possessions. In many cases, people forget to account for more sentimental items that may be haggled over after their passing.
After actress Farrah Fawcett died in 2009, for example, all of the artwork that she owned was given to her alma mater, the University of Texas. But one painting is still tied up in a legal battle between the university and the person who claims he is the rightful owner: Actor Ryan O’Neal, a former partner of Fawcett’s who says that the painting’s creator, Andy Warhol, gave the portrait to him. After the painting was spotted in his home, the university sued the actor, insisting the portrait was the property of the school. The case is expected to go to trial soon, despite O’Neal’s recent motion to dismiss it.
O’Neal and Fawcett met in 1979 and became romantically involved. Although they never married, they had a child together. They also shared a friendship with Warhol after O’Neal introduced Fawcett to the artist in 1980. According to O’Neal, Warhol asked Fawcett for her permission to make a portrait of her, and that Warhol granted O’Neal’s request to make two copies, one for Fawcett and the other for O’Neal. He says that he would sometimes display it at Fawcett’s home to protect it from the ocean air present at his own Malibu residence. But that doesn’t mean he relinquished his ownership of the painting, the actor said.
The university’s attorney argues that Fawcett’s living trust stated that all her artwork should be given to the university, and that O’Neal’s testimony of Warhol’s intentions would amount to hearsay.
Most of us have items that are sentimental to our family members, but we may not know how much they mean to other people until it’s too late. One way to avoid legal squabbles later on is to communicate with our loved ones. The other is to be as thorough as possible when planning your estate. The more specifically you can lay out your wishes, the fewer arguments are likely to arise when it comes to executing your plan.
Source: Malibu Patch, “Dispute Over Ryan O’Neal’s Andy Warhol Portrait Likely to go Before Jury,” Oct. 22, 2012