The University of Texas file a lawsuit claiming ownership of a Andy Warhol silkscreen of Farrah Fawcett, which it says Farrah bequeathed to the school in 2009 when she died in 2009 at the age of 62. Ryan O’Neal claims that the Warhol silkscreen was “given to him by Farrah” and, therefore, he owns it outright. The school says differently, and the result is a lawsuit over the silkscreen which could be worth as much as 30 million dollars.
How could this have been avoided, if Ryan is telling the truth? First, Farrah could have stated in her Will the exact pieces of art she wanted to bequeath to the University. Second, when Farrah gave the silkscreen to Ryan, she could have signed a Deed of Gift or other document stating that she was making a gift. Third, Ryan could have insured the artwork on his own insurance policy after he was given it by Farrah. Fourth, Farrah could have filed a Federal gift tax return in the year she gave the artwork to Ryan. Absent one of these techniques or some other extrinsic evidence that it was a gift to Ryan, a lawsuit developed, and it could be hard for Ryan to prove that it was a gift from Farrah.
While a 30 million dollar silkscreen is more valuable than many person’s personal effects, fights among family members after the death of a family member are common. Whether it is grandma’s yellow pie plate, or dad’s classic car, it is important to specifically state who gets what and create a procedure for resolving disputes if more than one family member wants a specific personal effect, without resorting to legal action.
The last gift to your family should not be a family fight or lawsuit. Instead, plan your estate to assist your family to continue their relationships after your death.