Ryan O’Neal is at it again. He and Craig Nevius, a Hollywood producer who used to work closely with Farrah Fawcett, are in the midst of more legal fighting against one another.
Initially, they both sued, each claiming the other had exploited Fawcett while she was sick from the cancer that claimed her life. Why? They both said the other had taken advantage of her to produce a documentary about her life and her sickness. Those lawsuits ended when Nevius ran out of money for legal fees.
Now, he has no choice but to continue fighting. Ryan O’Neal — Farrah’s ex and father to Farrah’s son — has sued Nevius again. What’s at stake this time? It’s all about the art.
Specifically, a certain, famed Andy Warhol painting of Fawcett in O’Neal’s possession. O’Neal says Warhol gave it to him years ago. Not everyone thinks he’s being honest though.
In fact, Farrah Fawcett’s Trust, which you can read here, states that her collection of artwork — which may include the Warhol work — were to pass to her alma mater, the University of Texas. The school recently sued Ryan O’Neal, claiming that he stole the painting which should belong to it.
So why did O’Neal sue Nevius this time? He claims that Nevius is the one who put the University up to suing him, by defaming O’Neal to the University and to the media by spreading lies that O’Neal stole the painting. O’Neal claims that Nevius is obsessed with Fawcett and will do anything to attack O’Neal.
Nevius says he never told anyone that O’Neal stole the painting and feels that the matter should be decided in court between the University and O’Neal. He wants to be left out of it.
Boy, it’s gotten to be a tangled mess! All from a single painting. It’s clear that if Fawcett owned it at the time of her death, the painting should belong to the University and O’Neal’s attack on Nevius is unwarranted. If, on the other hand, the painting truly was in O’Neal’s possession all along, then the school will be out of luck. And Nevius’ fate will turn on what he actually did say to Good Morning America, Star Magazine and others.
Fights over personal property like this painting are all too common when someone dies, even when the painting isn’t famous, like the Warhol portrait of Fawcett. Family members often battle over “who really owns it,” and whether or not “Mom really gave it to her.”
In most cases, proving who really owned something can be tough. In the case of valuable artwork, however, it should be fairly easy to prove. The true owner likely would have insured something this valuable, so insurance company records should be available to prove who possessed this property before Fawcett became sick with cancer.
For those people involved in family fights over property where there is no paper trail over who really owned it, the old adage among lawyers is “possession is nine-tenths of the law.” That often holds true in probate court, where judges seldom have patience to decide who is telling the truth about when a certain set of china, necklace or baseball card collection really was handed over or not.
In those cases, most families are better off setting emotions aside and reaching a settlement rather than throwing good money after bad, fighting in court. No one wins when more money is spent on legal fees than the property is worth. But it happens, all too often.
Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and the lawsuits over the Warhol painting won’t reach the point of absurdity. Or is it already too late for that?
By Danielle and Andy Mayoras, co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!, husband-and-wife legacy expert attorneys, and hosts of an upcoming national TV special called “Trial & Heirs: Protect Your Family Fortune!” The charismatic duo has appeared on the Rachael Ray Show, Forbes, ABC’s Live Well Network, WGN-TV and has lent their expertise and analysis to hundreds of media sources, including The Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Kiplinger, and The Washington Post, among many others. As dynamic keynote speakers, Danielle and Andy delight audiences nationwide with highly entertaining and informative presentations, dishing the dirt on celebrity estate battles while dispensing important legal information to help people avoid family fights among their heirs. The couple spends their free time with their 9-year old son and 7-year old boy/girl twins.
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