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Court fight over Kevorkian art localized to one state

The legal fight for ownership of artwork by notorious assisted suicide practitioner, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, is becoming a bit more focused. Two suits, in separate states, have been inching along in recent months. Now, one has been dismissed while the other proceeds. As New Jersey estate planning lawyers we find the matter interesting.

You may remember that we wrote about the Kevorkian estate situation in an entry on this blog back in October. Kevorkian died last summer. He was in prison at the time, serving a multi-year prison sentence for an assisted suicide conviction in 1999. Before he entered prison, Kevorkian entrusted a set of his original paintings to the Armenian Library and Museum Association for safekeeping.

Two suits were launched after Kevorkian's death. One was filed in Michigan by the Kevorkian estate. The other was launched by ALMA in Massachusetts. ALMA says it is the rightful owner of the art, estimated to be worth millions. The estate says the art was never anything more than a loan to ALMA and that Kevorkian always intended for it to be handed down to his only living relative, a niece.

Last week, the judge in the Michigan case dismissed the estate's suit. She said the Massachusetts suit was filed first and deserves to go forward. But she said that if the Massachusetts case winds up being dismissed for some reason, the matter could come back to her.

The attorney for the Kevorkian estate, who happens to have been a long-time friend of the doctor and is the estate's executor, claims that there is a written agreement between Kevorkian and ALMA that clearly states that the art was on loan. But ALMA says the official who signed the agreement didn't have the authority to make the deal.

The estate's attorney's response to that is, "Well, they never would have had the paintings if not for the agreement."

Because of the court fight it seems that the disposition of the art must not have been spelled out in a will. Had that been done, the court fights might have been avoided.

Source: The Detroit News, "Suit over Kevorkian art back in Massachusetts," Mike Martindale, Jan. 19, 2012

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