Fawcett’s Warhol portrait an example of need to account for heirlooms

Few modern day artists have the same notoriety as Andy Warhol. The artist, who died in 1987 and was known for his key role in the Pop Art movement, was enmeshed in celebrity culture. As a result, he knew many famous individuals, from Liza Minnelli to Farah Fawcett. According to actor Ryan O'Neal, this friendship led to the gift of two portraits of Fawcett, one for Fawcett and one for her long-time boyfriend, O'Neal. Fawcett succumbed to cancer in 2009, leaving all of her artwork to the University of Texas. University officials possessed one of the famed Warhol portraits, but received word that a second was in O'Neal's custody. As a result, the University pursued possession of the portrait through the court system. Ultimately, a jury found in favor of O'Neal, stating that the portrait was given to him as a gift by Warhol.

The story provides an example of the importance of properly accounting for all heirlooms within an estate plan. Although this case is unique, similar arguments can arise over pieces that family members have high sentimental attachments to. Clearly accounting for these items can help avoid costly disputes and hurtful confusion when assets are distributed.

Tips on Accounting for Family Heirlooms

Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch recently ran a report that noted baby boomers put more value in personal keepsakes than money when it came to bequests.

How do those putting together an estate plan account for these items? There are three things that can help:

  • Communication. When attempting to decide what item should go to which person, it can help to have an open conversation with loved ones. There may be an item that means very little to one person but holds high sentimental value to another. Gathering this information can help one to make more informed bequests. This discussion can also help one to explain why he or she is choosing to bequest a beloved item to a specific person, potentially reducing the risk of strife when the bequest is officially made.
  • Memorandums. Generally, an estate plan includes a will, various health care documents and possibly a trust. In addition, estate plans can also include a memorandum. A memorandum allows you to outline exactly who is receiving which item.
  • Professionals. Choosing someone to carry out an estate plan is difficult. Instead of giving this power to a family member or friend, the use of a neutral, professional third party can be beneficial. This can help to reduce the emotional conflict that can be tied to the administration of an estate plan.

Regardless of the method you choose to distribute your heirlooms, it is always wise to contact a professional. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you draft an estate plan that better ensures your wishes are met.