Litigation is brewing over a painting of actress Farrah Fawcett by famous artist Andy Warhol. The University of Texas, Fawcett’s alma mater, is suing Ryan O’Neal, her husband, to determine the ownership of the painting. The painting is worth millions and is presently in Mr. O’Neal’s possession. In her estate plan, Ms. Fawcett left all of her tangible personal property to the University of Texas which would include the painting. However, Mr. O’Neal claims that he owns the painting and that it was given to him by Ms. Fawcett prior to her death. A court will decide who owns the painting.
How can you prevent such disputes in the settlement of your estate? It may not be easy. Most wills and trusts I review have a blanket statement such as “I leave all my tangible personal property to my spouse or my children”. However, this statement does not let your family know exactly what property you are leaving them. You may have a lifetime of personal items and your family does not know the extent of your property. Unlike bank accounts, real estate and vehicles, the ownership of tangible personal property is not formally documented and therefore is not easily determined.
There are steps to clear up confusion over what property is yours and what is not. One task you may want to consider is making an inventory of your valuable personal items, including a description and the approximate value. You don’t need to get a formal appraisal. Just give your family an idea of the items’ value so they are aware of the true worth. If that seems too big of a job, you can hire a service to assist you. Making a list of your valuables serves several purposes. The list will let your family know what is valuable and what is not. It will also let your family know what you had in your possession at the time of your death. If something goes missing, then your family will have a record of the item. You will need to keep the list updated to indicate you no longer own the item should you sell or give something away. An inventory of your valuable personal items may seem like a daunting task, but it will provide an important benefit to your family when you are no longer around to tell them what you own.
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