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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

Inheritance battle over 3,200-year-old gold tablet

Many Minnesota families have heirlooms of some kind. Perhaps it's a keepsake with great sentimental value, or perhaps it's a treasured piece of furniture that could fetch a lot of money at auction. These heirlooms can be great sources of pride, but they can also be sources of conflict when heirs and beneficiaries don't agree on what to do with the object, or who gets to keep it.

In one unusual case currently going on in another state, a Berlin museum and an American family are fighting over who gets to keep an ancient gold tablet. The 3,200-year-old Assyrian tablet was found 100 years ago by German archeologists working at the site of an ancient temple to the fertility goddess Ishtar. They brought it back to a museum in Berlin before World War II, but it was lost during the chaos of the war, when many museum items were looted.

The family acquired the tablet through the estate of a family member who was a Polish survivor of the Holocaust. He said that he obtained it by trading cigarettes with a Russian soldier at the end of World War II. The man later moved to the United States and the tablet remained in his family. Some family members said they played with it as children. The man's heirs now say they want to donate the tablet to the national Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., but the Berlin museum says the tablet is its property.

In some ways the case represents a mirror-image of many inheritance battles concerning treasures looted during World War II. In many cases, families are fighting to try to win back treasures that had once been privately owned by their ancestors but were taken from them during the Holocaust.

Few Minnesota families have any heirlooms as exotic as a 3,200-year-old Assyrian tablet, but many have treasures that they would do almost anything to keep. When disputes arise over an inheritance, it can be important to get legal help from professionals who understand the sensitive nature of these disputes, and the complicated nature of the law.

Source: ABC News, "Berlin Museum Seeks Return of Ancient Gold Tablet," Michael Virtanen, Oct. 15, 2013

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