An estate feud has erupted in a wealthy New York art family after two brothers accused their stepmother of wrongfully selling millions of dollars worth of paintings that they should instead have inherited.
The most recent estate feud is over “La Balayeuse,” described in a Christie’s catalogue as a “hushed, intimate scene of a pretty country girl absorbed in her sweeping.” It was sold by last May by MGM Grand for $1.085 million, but MGM Grand can’t collect on the proceeds because the 1889 Renoir is caught up in legal fight.
“La Balayeuse” belonged to legendary art dealer Sam Salz, his sons Marc and Andre Salz say in court papers. The Salz brothers claim their father’s widow, Janet Salz, wrongly sold “La Balayeuse” in a Sotheby’s auction in 1999.
When the Salz brothers learned last year of the painting’s sale, they claimed that it really belonged to their father’s estate — and that the $1.085 million Christie’s got from the sale is thus rightfully theirs.
This is not the only estate feud running in the Salz family. The skirmish over the painting is the latest battle in a long running estate feud between the Salz sons and the estate of Janet Salz, who died in 2015.
“Janet perpetrated a decades-long scheme to fraudulently conceal certain paintings from Marc and his brother, Andre Salz to their detriment,” the brothers charge in court papers.
Marc and Andre Salz say their stepmother, Janet Salz, took at least three paintings from the estate of their father, Sam Salz, after he died in 1981. Those paintings, the sons claim in court papers, belonged to his estate and to them as heirs.
The paintings in question are Monet’s “La Seine a Argenteuil,” Edgar Degas’ “Horses in a Meadow” and Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s “Still Life with Figs.” The sons say they believe Salz sold the paintings at auctions and private sales in the 1990s and 2000s. Janet Salz died March 19, 2015 at 98.
Salz’s sons plan to recover the paintings through legal action against the estate of Janet Salz.
The real estate feud here is over the actions of the executors of Sam Salz’s estate. The brothers contend that the executors did not fulfill their obligations to the beneficaries of the estate.
Janet Salz and lawyer Robert S. Friedman had been the co-executors of Salz’s estate for the past three decades. The brothers say that their stepmother sold the assets of the estate (the paintings) and kept the proceeds rather than passing it on the beneficaries. In addition, they did not in their capacity as beneficaries give her, the executor, permission to sell the paintings.
Janet died in March 2015 and Marc filed court papers in December 2015, asking a judge to let him replace Friedman as executor because Friedman hadn’t tried to recover the paintings in his role as sole executor.
Lawyers for the brothers wrote a letter to Friedman in October telling him to either commence legal action against Janet Salz’s estate or resign as executor. If Friedman did neither, the sons would include him in legal action they planned to take, the letter states.
The court papers filed by Marc Salz include a letter from Friedman asking a judge to resign as executor. He cited advanced age and living abroad as the reasons.
Marc Salz says in the court papers that if he is named administrator, he “plans to take any and all actions to investigate the possibility of pursuing claims to recover any works of art which were in fact stolen from [his dad].”
An Estate Feud Isn’t Always About Millions of Dollars
A woman who was 24 when her husband of eight months died at age 70 has tried to get more money from his estate, after he left the majority to his autistic granddaughter.
Evi Frastika married Russell Walter O’Halloran in January, 2014, after being in a relationship with him for 10 months.
Mr O’Halloran, of Dicky Beach on the Sunshine Coast, whose estate was worth almost one million dollars when he died in September, 2014, left his second wife $10,000 and two cars.
But after his death she also received $150,000 from his superannuation, as a result of a binding death benefit nomination which her husband had intended to be for completion of her education.
Evi Frastika told the Supreme Court in Brisbane that she sent the $150,000 to Indonesia to pay off a debt to her parents, and asked the court to consider giving her more provision from the estate.
Mr O’Halloran had wanted his granddaughter, who is autistic, intellectually impaired and has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, to be the main beneficiary of his estate, the court heard.
Apart from $100,000 left in a trust for his adopted children, the granddaughter was left the rest of his estate. After his death Mr O’Halloran’s sister and Ms Frastika were to have equal shared responsibility for the girl, and she lived with the sister until she was unable to cope. The granddaughter, 14, for whom he had sole parental responsibility for eight years, is now in foster care and will need a fulltime carer.
Evi Frastika told the court she had helped to care for her husband and his granddaughter and received little benefit from the will.
But the estate executor said Ms Frastika had also received a significant benefit from her husband’s superannuation.
Justice Boddice said Ms Frastika would have difficulty establishing inadequate provision, given the $150,000 she received, after an 18-month relationship and eight-month marriage and dismissed her application.
What Can We Learn From This Estate Feud?
While spouses may make a claim on the estate for further provision, there is no guarantee that they’ll receive it.
It is at the discretion of the court as to whether or not provision claims are successful.
The important thing to remember with family provision claims is that the test is not to establish what the deceased intended under the will. The court must simply decide whether or not provision ought to be made to the applicant based on a number of things:
- Whether any provision you have already received is adequate for your proper maintenance, education and advancement in life.
- Competing claims of other eligible persons or beneficiaries. You may not be the only person who was cut out of the will.
- The nature and duration of your relationship with the person who has passed away.
- Your financial resources and earning capacity.
- The size of the estate. For example, you may pass all the criteria to make a successful family provision claim, but if there is only $20,000.00 in the estate, then there is very little scope for a Court to order provision.
- The financial circumstances of people you cohabit with, such as your spouse or de facto.
- Contributions you made, both financial and non-financial, to the person who has passed away.
- Any provision the deceased person made for you during their lifetime.
If you have any questions about a will – whether you think it’s unfair or you haven’t been provided for – contact us today. We provide a free, 10-minute phone consultation and every client receives the benefit of Bryan Mitchell’s expertise.