Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Monday, May 31, 2010

Owning Artworks

Rebecca korach woanRebecca Korach Woan (Owner, Chartwell Insurance Services) recently published her article entitled True Art Ownership, Private Wealth, May 2010.

An excerpt from the beginning of the article is below:

It should be axiomatic that no prudent art collector would buy an expensive work without establishing credible and lawful title to it. But simply having a title often isn’t good enough to secure the right of ownership. A good title can be easily spoiled if it is discovered that there was a theft in the artwork’s history (perhaps one of the “forced sales” that occurred during World War II). Art theft victims now have more means than ever to wage disputes, and recent court decisions have returned works of art to former owners even when the statute of limitations has expired. The Internet, meanwhile, offers databases that allow the cross-referencing of art auctions and databases of stolen artworks—tools that make it easier for theft victims to mount court challenges.

Thus the ownership history of artworks has become an increasingly sensitive issue for new buyers. As Lawrence Shindell, the CEO of ARIS Corp., says, “Just because the client bought it doesn’t mean the client owns it.” A work of art made before 1946 will always have a question mark hovering over it, and buyers of such pieces should be especially diligent before parting with their money. In the hushed and clubby world of art dealing, a persistent inquiry can sometimes seem impolite. But collectors who don’t proceed with due diligence can put their art at risk, especially if they sell the artwork to somebody else.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Wealth Counsel) for bringing this to my attention.


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