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Jury ends probate dispute over Warhol portrait of Farrah Fawcett

Some people may hold charitable organizations or educational institutions very close to their hearts. As such, they might consider bequeathing valuable property to the organization. This was the intent of actress and cultural icon Farrah Fawcett when she designated that her art collection would be donated to the University of Texas upon her passing.

Although this may have seemed like a simple designation when Fawcett first made her estate plan, a recently resolved legal challenge demonstrated the challenges that can accompany estate administration and probate. The University of Texas tried to obtain a valuable portrait of Fawcett painted by Andy Warhol after the actress’s death.

The university attempted to obtain the portrait, which was in the possession Ryan O'Neal, who was once in a long-term relation with Fawcett. There were two copies of the Warhol painting, and the university thought that both should have been included in her art collection. O'Neal countered by saying that one portrait was given directly to him by Warhol and the other was given to Fawcett.

In order to solve the probate litigation, a jury listened to testimony to determine who actually owned the portrait, because there was no physical evidence to designate it as a gift for O’Neal or not. If it had been given to O'Neal, then the university’s claim wouldn't stand. Ultimately, the jury came to a consensus that O'Neal's testimony was accurate and he was allowed to keep the artwork.

Although this case was eventually resolved, it potentially could have been prevented. For example, a detailed and itemized memorandum of Fawcett's artwork could have removed any ambiguity from the situation. If the inventory showed that Fawcett only owned one copy of the portrait, there would be little room for challenging O'Neal's ownership.

Source: CNN.com, "Ryan O'Neal can keep Farrah Fawcett portrait, jury says," Ann O'Neill, Dec. 20, 2013

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