Famous art collector's estate can't afford to bury his body because of dispute

The body of New York-based artist Merton D. Simpson, a painter well known for championing African art and who accumulated a collection worth millions of dollars, is in a bit of a predicament after last month's funeral. After the ceremony, the body of the art collector was not buried, but was instead returned to the funeral home in Charleston where it had been for more than two weeks since his death at the age of 84 early last month.

The reason: despite the millions of dollars worth of art, Simpson's family lacks money for a burial. Merton Simpson Jr. the art collector's son has even sent an email to his father's friends asking for contributions for a funeral, including instructions for wiring money through a PayPal account.

How did Simpson's estate get to into this position? Not surprisingly, because of a dispute over Mr. Simpson's care and his enormous art collection. Now that he has passed, accusations of mismanagement and exploitation have peaked. In the middle of the fray are Mr. Simpson's friends, family and staff members, all claiming to be interested in carrying out his real wishes.

Part of the dispute involves a will contest that will require a probate court to determine the validity of an April 7, 2011 will, which professed to supplant any previous wills, including one Simpson signed in 2007. Those two wills name different executors.

Such disputes, as this case shows very will, can be time consuming and very costly for an estate. This is the reason that it is so important to address the possibilities of legal disputes as best as possible in the estate planning process.

Source: New York Times, "Art Worth Millions, Yet No Cash for Burial," Patricia Cohen & Peter Lattman, March 25, 2013

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