When Farrah Fawcet died, she left behind a revocable living trust in which she deeded her art collection to the University of Texas. However, her partner of many years and the father of her child, Ryan O’Neal, removed an Andy Warhol painting from her home. Now, the University already had a copy of this particular painting, but it sued O’Neal for the other, which lead to a lengthy court battle.
O”Neal argued that the painting was his and had been given to him by Warhol. The University argued that Fawcet had mulled over selling the second copy, and this had been captured on her reality television show. When the painting had been loaned out, Fawcet indicated that she was the owner on museum documents. Insurance documents also listed Fawcet as the owner. The trial lasted three weeks.
Now, you may not own anything like an original Warhol, but the items you leave behind may be just as valuable to your heirs. No one would want to imagine their families going to court to duke it out in a painful and drawn-out battle over a home, piece of jewelry, artwork, or other item, sentimental, valuable, or otherwise.
The battle over the Warhol painting is a great example of what can happen when the instructions you leave behind don’t appear to match your stated intentions when you were alive. Fawcet’s actions and words supported the fact that the painting was hers, and she left no indication that it was to go to O’Neal. However, in a 9 to 3 verdict, jurors sided with O’Neal and gave him the painting. No one will ever know if Fawcet believed it to be hers, or really wanted O’Neal to have it.
If you want to avoid a battle like this over valuable or contentious items in your estate, be sure that everything in your will or trust is transferred in a manner that is consistent with your trust or will. Double check beneficiary designations anytime something changes in your family. If you change your mind and want to give an item to someone else in your family, change your will or trust to be consistent with it. It may be painful now, but it will avoid heartache later.
Over the past 31 years, the Law Offices of Christopher A. Benson has helped more than 800 clients prepare and utilize simple and effective planning techniques to protect them and their families in order to avoid probate, save estate taxes, save money and save added emotional burden that comes from long term illness and/or death of a family member. Give us a call to schedule a free consultation to find out how we can help you and your family.