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A Modern Approach with an old fashioned feel PROBATE • ESTATE PLANNING • ASSET PROTECTION • BUSINESS LAW

Clear documentation helps avoid disputes over wills and trusts

Back in November, we wrote about a legal dispute over a very valuable piece of artwork left in a deceased actress' estate. When longtime Hollywood celebrity Farrah Fawcett passed away in 2009, she left a rather extensive art collection to the University of Texas. This was documented in a revocable living trust.

Seemingly included in that collection were two portraits of Fawcett created in the 1980s by famous American artist Andy Warhol. The university received one of the two portraits, but discovered that the other had been taken from Fawcett's home by her former partner Ryan O'Neal. The two actors had been in a relationship for many years and had a son together. Upon learning that O'Neal had the second portrait, the university sued for possession of it.

After a three-week trial that ended in December of last year, a jury ultimately decided that O'Neal was the true owner and could keep the portrait. He, in turn, has said he plans to bequeath the painting to his own son when he passes away.

Although few of us have possessions worth as much as an original Andy Warhol piece, there is still a lesson to be learned from this case. No matter what you plan to leave and you who plan to leave it to, you should always document your intentions as clearly as possible and in writing.

A thorough estate plan (including a well-crafted will or trust) is the best way to make sure that your final wishes are honored. Moreover, it will greatly reduce the likelihood of a family squabble or litigation over property you've left behind.

Source: Financial Planning, "Farrah Fawcett's estate planning wishes have been at the center of a number of recent lawsuits." Danielle and Andy Mayoras, Jan. 14, 2014

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