Many Florida residents are avid art collectors, and they understand the potential value of paintings, sculptures and similar objects. It is important to remember to include such valuable objects in individual estate plans because estate litigation processes are rarely prepared to distribute these items if the owners’ wishes are not spelled out. An Andy Warhol painting of Farrah Fawcett is at the center of an ongoing probate debate between the woman’s estate and Oscar-nominated actor Ryan O’Neal, according to news reports. O’Neal, 72, reportedly took the painting from Fawcett’s home after her death. Ownership of that piece of artwork is no longer clear, as the University of Texas claims that Fawcett left the painting to that institution in her will.

Warhol reportedly created the portraits from Polaroid pictures of the actress. Two versions of the portrait exist. One is currently in the possession of the University of Texas, while O’Neal has retained the other copy. Fawcett and O’Neal had a long-term relationship that reportedly soured after she caught him with another woman. O’Neal kept the painting, but said that subsequent girlfriends disliked the image, which was featured prominently in his home. As a result, O’Neal says he allowed Fawcett to borrow the painting. He says he simply reclaimed it after she died.

An exhaustive inquiry into the matter, including a review of O’Neal’s journals and memoirs, is now being conducted to determine whether he ever wrote that Warhol or Fawcett promised ownership of the painting to him. The actor said he confirmed possession of the painting through a trustee that oversaw Fawcett’s estate, but it is not clear whether that actually occurred.

This unfortunate situation illustrates the difficulty that can accompany even a comprehensive estate plan. In this case, Fawcett had correctly appointed a trustee, and yet some of her possessions are still being contested. Florida residents are urged to draft a comprehensive estate plan that will prevent such unnecessary and expensive probate litigation, allowing property to smoothly change hands after death.

Luis E. Barreto