A Warhol portrait of Farrah Fawcett was always going to be in demand after her death. Had she made her will more precise, or her wishes more clear, she could have avoided the ensuing legal battle.
When Farrah died in 2009 she left a will giving all her artwork to her alma mater, the University of Texas. But her long-time partner Ryan O’Neill claimed that one of two copies of a famous Andy Warhol portrait hanging in her home belonged to him, and removed it for his private enjoyment.
O’Neill said the painting was given to him by Warhol in return for his role in arranging the portrait session. But the University issued proceedings for the return of the valuable painting.
The case was finally heard in the US courts last month, the jury reaching a majority verdict agreeing it was likely that the portrait was indeed O’Neill’s.
So many years of dispute and expensive litigation followed from a lack of clarity. Farrah Fawcett may have known all along that the couple effectively owned one of the portraits each, though confusingly they were both hung at her home. A simple confirmation from either party to the other during their lives may have been sufficient to resolve any uncertainty.
Under both English and American law a will stating clearly which items are included in a gift, accompanied if necessary by a note explaining any possible misinterpretations or unusual reasoning, may be persuasive in ensuring that your will and wishes are properly carried out.