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Legal wrangling over Farrah painting

One painting. Two lawsuits. How does such a thing happen? The easy answer, as estate lawyers in New Jersey or any other state can tell you, is lack of clear communication. If someone is fortunate enough to have personal property of significant value it is important to spell out specifically how each piece of that property should be handled in the event of death. This is most easily done through a proper will, trust or other document within the portfolio of a complete estate plan.

That apparently didn't happen in the case of 1970s TV icon Farrah Fawcett. She died in 2009 after losing a battle with cancer. At the fulcrum of the disputes in the courts is one of two Andy Warhol silkscreen paintings done of the "Charlie's Angels" beauty.

According to some reports, Warhol gifted both pieces to Fawcett. And a trust she drew up before dying says all of the art she collected should pass on to the University of Texas, where she attended college. The school has one of the paintings. The other is in the home of Ryan O'Neal, Fawcett's long-time lover.

One of the suits, filed by the school, says it should have possession of the painting and demands that O'Neal hand it over. O'Neal says Warhol actually gave the painting to him and that he's keeping it.

The second suit was filed by O'Neal and targets Hollywood producer Craig Nevius, a man O'Neal has feuded with in court before. O'Neal alleges that the only reason the University is suing him is because Nevius told the school that O'Neal stole the painting. As noted, O'Neal says it was his to begin with.

So, at the crux of both cases is the question of who owned the painting. Was it Fawcett or O'Neal? The courts have the task now of sorting out the answer. There are those that say the issue should be easy to resolve. With an estimated value of $30 million, the painting should be covered by insurance and whoever took out the policy probably has ownership rights.

In the meantime, the issue serves as a burr in the efforts to resolve Fawcett's estate.

Source: Forbes.com, "Did Ryan O'Neal Steal Painting From Farrah Fawcett's Estate?," Danielle and Andy Mayoras, Jan. 9, 2012

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