An estate dispute has erupted between the relatives of former First Lady Jackie Kennedy and a New York art gallery over a painting.

A long-lost portrait of a teenage Jackie Kennedy has been discovered and her family is suing to get it back.

The forgotten work is believed to have been stolen in the late 1960s from Grey Gardens, the grand, decaying estate of Jackie’s aunt and cousin, “Big Edie” Beale and her daughter “Little Edie”, when they attended the “debut” of a friend’s daughter. They returned to Grey Gardens to discover they’d been robbed of $15,000 worth of property, New York Magazine reported in 1972.

The painting, done in 1950 by artist Irwin Hoffman, shows a then 19-year-old Jacqueline Bouvier in close-up, primly dressed, her dark bob and brown eyes staring out from the framed canvas.
The portrait was commissioned by Jackie’s dad, John Vernou Bouvier III, who was known as “Black Jack,” and later bequeathed to Big Edie, his sister, in his will.

Big Edie, who lived in the 1897 manse with her daughter even as it was falling apart around them, filling with feral cats and filth, died in 1977.

estate dispute, estate battles, contesting a will, wills, estate planningBefore her own death in 2002, Little Edie urged her nephew and the executor of her will, Bouvier Beale Jr., and his wife, Eva, to recover the family’s stolen items and reminded them of the Jackie portrait.

The lawsuit said a 1998 Hamptons Magazine article showcased the portrait. Then in 2004, Beale’s nephew’s wife, Eva, spotted it at Wallace Gallery.

When she asked Wallace about the portrait’s origins, he told her the same thing he would later tell the news — that it came from a dealer he refused to identify who had since died.

Wallace allegedly repeatedly refused to return the art or identify who sold it to him, but but insisted the provenance of the portrait was “impeccable”.

The family wants the artwork back and is “seeking justice and wants to reclaim this important piece of its legacy,” said lawyer Megan Noh, who represented Little Edie’s estate.

“If the painting was stolen I would cheerfully and gladly return it to the right owner, but that’s not the case. The Beale family insist they own this painting but there’s no evidence of that,” Wallace said.

Avoiding an Estate Dispute

One of the best ways to avoid an estate dispute over your will when you’ve passed away is to know exactly what you own. Because this changes over the course of your life, it’s important to keep updating your estate planning. You should also be careful about how you word your will.

estate dispute, estate battles, contesting a will, wills, estate planningA will is a legal document that says what you would like to happen with your money, belongings and other assets (your estate) when you pass away.  A will names your beneficiaries (those whom you wish to give your estate to) and the executor (someone you’d like to administer your estate when you die).  It’s also the place where you can name the guardians for your children and elect to give money to charity. One of the reasons that it’s important to update your will regularly is that life circumstances change: you might have more children, more grandchildren, get married, divorced, and remarried. You might even face the situation where someone you’ve left something to dies before you do.

The second reason to update your will regularly is because assets change. You might buy and sell houses, or start and then sell share portfolios. This is so important because your heir will receive nothing if the asset no longer exists at the time of estate administration.

An Estate Dispute Over A Lost Asset

For example, John has a principle place of residence and two investment properties. He decides to leave each of his three children a property. Prior to his death, his principle place of residence is sold and the funds used to secure a place in a aged-care facility. The child who was set to receive that home, which no longer exists as an asset, could receive nothing from the estate at all. This is called ademption and is one of the trickier aspects to succession law – and why you need to seek specialist legal advice when establishing your estate planning.

Having a clear and complete estate plan should give you and your loved ones piece of mind.  Don’t forget to have it updated with any significant life-changes and review your circumstances regularly. Most people now have substantial wealth tied up in their family home and superannuation, but don’t forget all those assets accumulated over a lifetime – jewellery, paintings, furniture, tools and cars. All of your assets – not just to most obvious ones – should be dealt with by your will.

For expert, friendly advice, make sure you contact us today. We offer a FREE, ten-minute phone consultation.