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Famous artist dead; wills and trusts now litigation issues

Illinois readers considering executing estate plans may have questions about various documents and what constitutes validity when signing such documents. It is always a good idea to speak with someone well-versed in state laws that govern such matters. A current probate battle in another state shows how quickly things can get out of hand if an estate owner dies and loved ones disagree over wills and trusts.

The situation involves a home that was created to be a work of art as well as a sculpture park that is located on the property. The estate owner was a famous Russian artist. He made news headlines in the 1960s for speaking out against then leader Nikita Khrushchev's criticism of modern art. When Khrushchev died, however, the artist was commissioned to design his tombstone.

The artist's wife at the time of his death is not fighting to protect the expansive collection comprised of his home and the works displayed in the sculpture park. She says her husband did not want these assets sold after his death. She also says he signed a will before he died that designated her as his sole heir.

The matter is being litigated in a New York surrogate court because the decedent's daughter (who lives in Russia) has stepped forward to claim a portion of her father's estate. His widow says she has a copy of her late husband's will, listing her as sole heir to his estate. She does not have the original document, however, which she says was destroyed in a fire in 1998. Any Illinois resident facing complex issues regarding wills and trusts may consult with an experienced attorney to seek clarification of probate laws and obtain help to determine a best course of action to resolve his or her current legal problems.

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