Inheritance disputes often cause strong divides within families. Where fine art is involved, matters can become even more complex and legally challenging. Not every case will be as high-profile as the Goulandris collection worth over $3 billion, but any legal disputes within families, or between family members and organisations, can be difficult to overcome without legal proceedings.

In this article, we delve into family art disputes and some of the best ways to go about resolving them.

Why is art a complicated matter for some families?

Fine art can be incredibly high value and this often leads to issues when owners pass away. Estate planning is a complex process as it is, but the legalities surrounding art ownership can exacerbate such issues.

The lack of clear ownership documentation, unclear beneficiaries in wills and complex family dynamics can all shroud the process of transitioning art ownership from one party to another. Tax implications are also a significant concern, with inheritance tax being applied to the value of all assets in some countries.

Issues of provenance, authenticity and rights to ownership, sometimes involving foundations and galleries, can all intertwine with family matters. Legal proceedings are never easy to manage, particularly where family treasures are so eagerly fought over.

How to best deal with an art dispute in the family

  • Maintain open communication and dialogue – Disputes require communication and progressive dialogue to move closer towards resolution. This should be between all associated parties, regardless of the nature of the feedback or topic of discussion. Whether or not communication is facilitated through a third party is your choice.
  • Seek legal counsel – Art disputes often require the knowledge and expertise of art litigation specialists. They will be able to manoeuvre your case through the legal landscape, no matter if you’re trying to retain art or gain ownership from another party. Legal professionals can assist with the different areas of art law including restitution claims, authenticity disputes and compensation claims.
  • Consider mediation and arbitration – A strategy that is often successful for intra-family art disputes is mediation. During this process, you’ll have a third party mediating talks between family members, with the hopes of coming to a resolution on your own terms. Alternatively, arbitration takes the final decision out of your hands and leaves it with a neutral arbitrator. This is a good way to ensure a fair resolution without going to court.

Family disputes concerning inheritances and fine art can be tricky to navigate. Legal advice is often recommended to resolve disputes fairly and ensure that the transfer of art ownership is done legally and responsibly.