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Fawcett painting litigation an instructive estate planning tale

You know it when you see it.

That adage pertains to a few select things in life, as it likely does for many Americans when it comes to an artifact connected with Farrah Fawcett, the iconic actress who died in 2009.

That artifact is a painting -- two copies, actually -- done of Fawcett by the equally famous and iconic artist Andy Warhol, who has also passed away.

The paintings live on, with one of them belonging to the University of Texas and the other recently being determined by a jury verdict to belong to Fawcett's one-time husband, actor Ryan O'Neal.

More will likely be heard of the paintings, especially in law school classes on trusts and estates and as a cautionary tale occasionally revisited in the media about the strong need for a giver to be absolutely clear about his or her intent in any matter where personal property of value is being transferred.

Fawcett executed a revocable living trust during her lifetime that left all her artwork to the university. Both of the Warhol paintings were in Fawcett’s home when she died. The school duly received one. O’Neal entered her home and took the other following her death,

The school sued him for possession, ultimately losing at trial despite Fawcett’s having referred to the paintings as belonging to her during her life.

O’Neal maintained otherwise, saying that one of the paintings was always understood to belong solely to him. He now states that he will never sell it, but, rather, ensure that the couple’s son will inherit it.

The ambiguity and confusion in the painting-related litigation related to the fact that two paintings existed, with Fawcett’s intent not being clearly expressed in her trust or by any supporting legal documents that clearly stated her intent.

There is an obvious lesson to be learned from the litigation about accuracy and making wishes clearly known.

An experienced estate planning attorney can answer questions about property transfers, inheritances and other estate-related matters, as well as ensure that a person’s wishes are carried out through the creation of appropriate and carefully drafted legal instruments.

Source: Financial-Planning.com, "Warhol painting mess: estate planning takeaways," Danielle and Andy Mayoras," Jan. 14, 2014

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