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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

Warhol painting at center of celebrity probate litigation

Heirs and beneficiaries to deceased Minnesota residents can find themselves embroiled in a wide variety of probate and other disputes, particularly when the person who died was not clear about their estate plan or when a plan was made under unusual or suspicious circumstances. In addition to more classical probate litigation, like lawsuits over the validity of a will, one thing that Minnesotans do need to be aware of is the possibility of disputes over what belongs in a person's probate estate in the first place.

As a case in point, a nationally-known university is preparing to go to trial soon over an Andy Warhol portrait of the late actress, Farah Fawcett. The painting is supposedly worth $30 million. It is currently in the hands of one of Fawcett's former boyfriends, another actor who allegedly removed the painting from Fawcett's home shortly after her death. The university claims that the painting was part of a collection artwork that Fawcett wanted held in trust for the benefit of the university.

Fawcett's former boyfriend respectfully disagrees and says that the painting was always intended to be his and that Fawcett was merely holding it for him because the actor's new girlfriend did not want the painting in the house. The university counters that Fawcett insured the painting and also loaned it to a museum at one point. Interestingly, since this lawsuit was technically filed outside of a probate proceeding, a jury will decide the case. The trial was scheduled to start November 20.

Moreover, to creating a clear and detailed estate plan, Minnesotans who are trying to prevent probate disputes should also be crystal clear about what property belongs to them and what property belongs to someone else, particularly when that property is valuable. Good documentation is important in this respect. When a probate fight ensues nevertheless, interested parties may want to consider hiring an experienced probate litigation attorney to help them protect their rights.

Source: Wealth Management, "Who owns Warhol's Farrah Fawcett painting?," Megan Leonhardt, Nov. 14, 2013

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