Deal Reached in Museum vs. Estate Feud

Unfortunately, there is a tendancy to assume that so long as end-of-life affairs are reasonably spelled out, then everything will go as planned. The reality is that when making estate plans it is usually best to reiterate Murphy’s Law: “Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” It is only with that comprehensive planning, taking into account all possible scenarios, that true peace of mind is afforded. This need to be clear about taking into account all contingencies is even more prudent when larger estate are invovled. That is because money often brings out that most aggressive side of others. Even wishes that seem straight-forward might be complicated in the heat of a feud involving money or valuable proeprty.

The Kevorkian Example
Take, for example, a recent story on the estate of controversial doctor Jack Kevorkian. Shortly before the assisted-suicide proponent was to serve his stint in federal prison, he loaned at least 17 paintings to a museum. He ended up serving eight years before being paroled in 2007. He died about three years later at age 83. The executor of Kevorkian’s estate explained that it was his wish for the paintings to be returned to his estate and used to supplement the inheritance for his neice.

However, following the doctor’s passing, a dispute arose between the estate (managed by the executor) and the museum which had received the paintings. The museum argued that they owned the paintings. All of this led to a federal lawsuit being filed by the executor and a countersuit by the museum. Of course, one assumes that it was not the doctor’s plan to have this situation delve into a legal mess.

Fortunately, according to a story this week in Detroit News, the two sides have finally reached a settlement which should end the legal cases. The majority of paintings (which in totality are estimated to be worth $2 million) will go back to the neice. However, four of the paintings will remain in the musuem. This resolution may not have been the doctor’s exact wishes but, when estate planning is not as iron-clad as possible, the final resolution of these matters is often less than ideal.

The lesson: permanent gifts and temporary use of objects must be clearly spelled out in effecive, strong legal documents. Estate planning efforts must take all contingencies into account so that this sort of feuding it stamped out as early as possible.

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