Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Brooklyn Museum Needs To Return Problematic Gifts

Colonel2In the 1930's, Colonel Michael Friedsam, a beloved philanthropost, left most of his $20 million estate to public institutions. While he did not specifically mention the Brooklyn Museum in his will, his executors worked out an agreement with the Met that allowed them to pick their favorites from his vast collection of art, jewelry, rugs, furniture, ceramics, armaments, and more.  In the 30's and 40's, the Met deaccessioned some items and 23 went back to the executors, who then sent them to the Brooklyn Museum.  

Currently, 88 works are on display at the Brooklyn Museum, and unfortunately, a large portion of those works, and his whole collection generally, have turned out to be fakes, misattributions or of poor quality.  The obvious solution would be to deaccession the items, but the Colonel's will requires the museum to obtain permission from the estate's executors to do this--and the last executor died in 1962.  The museum would face a very hefty bill if they are forced to store these items that are now taking up wanted space in their museum, so they are working with the New York State attorney general's office to find another solution.

The Museum would like to return the items to the descendents of the colonel's brother-in-law and two friends according to a provision in his will that generally provides: In the event that the collection was not kept together, the will specified that the art should go to the colonel's brother-in-law and two friends.  However, the Manhattan Surrogate judge told the museum that they have to search for these three men's descendents before she will rule on that proposal.  The museum is conferring with the attorney general's office on how to proceed before they begin the search for these descendents. 

See Patricia Cohen, Brooklyn Museum Finds Some Problematic Gifts Can't Be Returned, The New York Times, Jan. 15, 2013.


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