Florida Elder Law & Estate Planning Blog

Family Conflict Erupts Over Estate’s Precious Paintings

Family Conflict Erupts Over Estate's Precious Paintings

One of the fundamental goals of estate planning is to leave a legacy of family harmony. An estate need not be a fortune to spark a family feud. But of course, it helps. Take, for example, the Neumann family of New York.

Family patriarch Hubert Neumann, 87, and his wife Dolores had three daughters: Belinda, Kristina and Melissa. In the 1980s, Dolores befriended little-known graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and acquired several of his works. Today, his paintings are worth millions.

Dolores died in Sept. 2016 of liver cancer. Soon after, Belinda, 51, turned over one of the Basquiat paintings for auction at Sotheby’s. Hubert sued to block the sale, claiming Belinda had tricked her ailing mother into signing over the rights to the work. Although Hubert lost the suit, the painting, an oil on wood titled “Flesh and Spirit,” went for $30.7 million. That was far less than the expected $100 million. Belinda then sued her father for $100 million, claiming his lawsuit had scared off investors and depressed the price.

As often happens with estate contests, this is a saga that doesn’t look like it will wrap up quickly. More legal maneuvering is now in the works. The Neumann family still owns many precious paintings, including additional works by Basquiat, as well as by Picasso, Miro, Haring, Koons and others. Family members want to hang on to them. Belinda, on the other hand, wants to sell them, and is suing her father and sisters for the right to do so. According to her lawsuit, Belinda “needs the funds to pay her family’s significant housing, litigation and educational expenses.” She claims that the paintings cannot be equitably divided because of the great disparity in their individual values.

Belinda also claims in her lawsuit that the family cannot share the works because there is just too much acrimony among them. That’s probably one of the only things the Neumann family agrees on these days.

Your estate plan should always be designed to smooth over potential family conflicts, not stoke them. See a qualified estate planning attorney for guidance!