Art & Estate Disputes: Who Gets Ownership?
I’m Mike Hackard with Hackard Law. We litigate estate and trust disputes in California’s Superior Courts. We do this on a contingency fee basis.
Our Northern California practice covers Sacramento and the Bay Area. Our Southern California practice extends from Los Angeles/Ventura Counties to Orange and San Diego Counties.
Estate and trust disputes span a wide spectrum of wrongdoing, assets, and legal complexities. Experience counts. So does loving what we do. At Hackard Law, we love what we do.
Our clients are interesting, our cases challenging, and our quest for good results energizing. Our cases are grounded in storytelling. Stories of families, their life’s work, and often interference with long held expectations.
Some cases involve art – paintings. They can start with arguments over an art collection.
Are paintings part of an art collection? It might sound silly, but it’s not uncommon to have heirs or beneficiaries argue over what particular assets fall within the scope of a broad reference to the phrase “paintings, furniture and furnishings.” This can be quite important because the value of one painting may dwarf the combined value of furniture and furnishings.
So, who is entitled to the painting? This can be simple or complex. Is the painting particularly identified? Is it stolen? Has it been valued? If it’s bequeathed to a charitable trust – maybe a museum – do the terms of the bequest allow the trustees to sell the painting?
If the painting is not in the hands of an estate representative, what are the processes for retrieval? California has some general as well as particular statutes helpful to the recovery process. Nuances also arise in contracts with art dealers, consignments for sale, and indefinite loans of art to museums.
- Who has title?
- Who can demand the return of art?
- Can the art be distributed to the estate – to the owners?
- How is demand made?
It’s said that the bailee – the museum – is under no duty to return the property to the owner until demand is made. California law defines a bailee as a person or entity to whom property or money is bailed. The bailor transfers possession, but not ownership to the bailee. The bailee doesn’t breach its duty before such demand is made and rejected.
Sometimes claims are made as to partial ownership of art. This raises interesting questions. How do you divide a painting? Do you use declaratory relief to confirm ownership? Should a receiver or partition referee be appointed to sell the painting? California and other community property states present additional issues as to whether the decedent’s interest in art was a community asset or a separate property asset.
Art can bring us joy. Litigation doesn’t. The best advice is for estate planners to address art in estate ownership, valuation, and disposition.
When this doesn’t happen, and a dispute heads to litigation, call us at Hackard Law: 916-313-3030. We’ll be happy to speak with you.
Hackard Law: Attorneys Making a Difference
Attorney Michael Hackard
Michael Hackard is a top rated “AV” for over 20 years (“AV Preeminent is a significant rating accomplishment- a testament to the fact that a lawyer’s peers rank him or her at the highest level of professional excellence.”). Avvo also ranks him with their highest rating – “ 10.0 Rating – ‘Superb.’” Michael is also a “SuperLawyer” – an honor reserved for no more than five percent of attorneys in each state. [ Attorney Bio ]
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