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Ownership of expensive artwork disputed after celebrity's death

It's important to have a clear and thorough estate plan in place for many reasons. For starters, a well-drafted estate plan (and a will in particular) will minimize the chances of in-fighting between your heirs and beneficiaries over specific pieces of property or certain assets.

When it comes to the estates of celebrities, such squabbling is unfortunately common. The estate of the late actress Farrah Fawcett is just one example. Currently, a major university is embroiled in a lawsuit with Fawcett's ex-boyfriend over ownership of a painting estimated to be worth as much as $30 million.

Fawcett died of cancer in June 2009. The painting in question is one of two silkscreen portraits of the actress done by famous American artist Andy Warhol in the 1980s. Fawcett's ex-boyfriend Ryan O'Neal claims that he owns the painting and was merely storing it at Fawcett's house. As such, he allegedly took the artwork from her home shortly after her death.

It is unclear if O'Neal has any documentation to prove ownership. Moreover, it's not even clear what the status or quality of his relationship with Fawcett was at the time of her death. The two have a son and were together for 18 years but dissolved their romantic relationship in the late 1990s.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit is the University of Texas at Austin, which was the intended recipient of Fawcett's entire art collection. The collection was included in a trust Fawcett set up in her later years. The university claims that both Warhol paintings were part of the art collection.

Without knowing the details of the case it is difficult to speculate on the outcome or who the true owner might be. However, the lesson we can learn from this case is that it is important to be as clear as possible in your will specifically and in your estate plan generally.

Source: Wealth Management, "Who Owns Warhol’s Farrah Fawcett Painting?" Megan Leonhardt, Nov. 14, 2013

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