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Court battle over painting shows need for estate planning

Florida residents undoubtedly remember Farrah Fawcett. The star was mainly known for her acting roles, but a recent legal dispute has brought Fawcett's name back into the spotlight.

Fawcett passed away in 2009, but her long-time partner, Ryan O'Neal, has struggled to handle her estate. Two portraits of the actress were created by Andy Warhol: one of them remains in O'Neal's possession, while the other is owned by the University of Texas. The legal dispute over the work owned by O'Neal serves as a warning for Florida residents who have not created comprehensive estate plans.

The portrait involved in the dispute is estimated to be worth up to $12 million. The University of Texas already had one of the portraits and was seeking to add the mate -- the one owned by O'Neal -- to the university's collection. Throughout the four-week trial, O'Neal maintained that he intended for the couple's son Redmond to ultimately inherit the artwork. O'Neal won the case after the jury deliberated for only 90 minutes.

However, the months-long dispute might have been prevented if a clear and comprehensive estate plan had been in place.

The case illustrates how individual assets are often the source of contention between heirs of an estate, here in Florida or elsewhere. Whether the asset has monetary or sentimental value, undeserving persons or organizations may attempt to lay claim to it if there is ambiguity in an estate plan.

However, evidence is necessary in estate litigation to establish an heir's claim. Ideally, to avoid disputes over assets, a property owner should make his or her intentions clear in a written document before incapacity or death. Distributing property to heirs before death or incapacity may be another option.

Source: The Daily Texan, "Jury rules against UT in dispute about Andy Warhol painting of Farrah Fawcett," Dec. 19, 2013

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