An Estate Planning Expert Discuses the Living Trust Dispute Between The University of Texas and Ryan O’Neal

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24th Jan 2014

How well executed is a will or living trust? If these documents fulfill the wishes of the estate owner without any major legal problems, then they are well-executed.  Dwight Edward Tompkins, an estate planning attorney from Orange County, states that the estate owner does not have to die before you can ensure the effectiveness of an estate planning document.
If the properties listed in the living trust have documents certifying proof of ownership by the trustor, then the transfer of assets from the trust to the beneficiaries should go as planned.  If there are properties whose ownership is vague and there is no documentary evidence of ownership, then there may be problems with the transfer of ownership. 
Dwight Tompkins cites the present case between 70s movie actor Ryan O’Neal and the University of Texas over possession of an Andy Warhol painting which is estimated to be around US $30 million dollars.  The prized artwork is presently in O’Neal’s bedroom.  The University of Texas (UT), however, alleges that the Warhol opus should be theirs since the late Farrah Fawcett bequeathed the painting to UT in her living trust.  O’Neal, however, claims that the painting was never solely in the possession of the “Charlie’s Angels” star.    

O’Neal alleges that, during their 30 year relationship, Ms. Fawcett took certain items from O’Neal’s residence. These items included artwork by Andy Warhol.  He did not ask Ms. Fawcett to immediately return these since he believed that they would eventually be returned.
Ownership of the Warhol painting is what the court is now trying to decide since the artwork does not have any legal certificates as to who owns it.  By this year, the painting can be in the hands of UT or remain with Ryan O’Neal.
What can we learn from this case?  In preparing your living trust, you must also have your documents of ownership ready and attached to the living trust – especially when it comes to highly appreciable assets.  The case regarding the $ 30 million Warhol painting between UT and Ryan O’Neal stems from vague ownership of certain properties in Ms. Fawcett’s living trust.  Had there been a valid proof of ownership by Ms. Fawcett, then the Warhol paining would now be on display at the University of Texas.  Farrah Fawcett passed away in 2009 and more than four years after her death, some of the items listed in her living trust are still being contested in the courts.      
Dwight Edward Tompkins, the estate planning attorney from Orange County, advises individuals to collaborate closely with their lawyers in drafting their estate planning documents.  Your living trust should prevent legal challenges like this case of the $30 million Warhol painting.  An effective living trust should facilitate a fast and seamless transfer of assets upon the death of the estate owner.

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