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Will bequest seemed clear enough, but … it wasn’t

On Behalf of | Apr 25, 2019 | estate planning & probate, Firm News

University of Texas officials undoubtedly felt elated when hearing the news following actress Farrah Fawcett’s death that the iconic pop culture superstar had remembered the school in a tangible way. The university was Fawcett’s alma mater. She bequeathed her artwork to it in her last will and testament.

The school received a famous Andy Warhol portrait of Fawcett as a result.

Subsequently, it learned that there was a twin to that painting that was not mentioned in the will.

In fact, it was hanging on a wall in actor Ryan O’Neal’s residence. An in-depth media piece on the portraits’ history notes that, because the second piece was artwork and germane to Fawcett, the school “laid claim to it pursuant to the last will’s bequest.”

So too, though, did O’Neal, and vehemently so. He claimed that he set up his longtime partner’s portrait session with the famed painter, and that the piece in his possession was given to him by Warhol. O’Neal told a jury in 2013 that the painting was never owned by Fawcett and thus not relevant through any reference to her will.

The jury agreed, settling the matter in O’Neal’s favor. Reportedly, he is now seeking to sell the work, with an approximate $18 million price tag being underscored in media accounts.

The above-cited article makes a telling point regarding the painting and the legal outcome attached to it. It states that, while not every single asset merits a detailed description in a will, an Andy Warhol painting is certainly “significant enough to specifically identify.”

If the second Fawcett painting had been duly noted and described, the O’Neal-versus-UT spat might have resulted in a legal victory for the school. Its flatly generic reference to “artwork,” though, led to a different result. The painting still hangs in O’Neal’s home nearly 40 years after its creation.


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