Ex’s, Divorce, and Probate

Separation and divorce have, perhaps obviously, potentially adverse effects on estates and the probate process. Regardless of when it occurred. Both are fraught with emotions and complications that tend to linger for years. Along the line, promises are made, between the exes, with the children, sometimes they’re kept, sometimes they’re forgotten, sometimes they fester for years.

We wrote about the great radio maven, Himan Brown, a little while back and noted that he was estranged from his son. Divorce was the reason, and while it involves an estate worth tens of millions, it is a cautionary tale for, well, everyone.

Himan and Mildred Brown were married for 34 years while he amassed a fortune creating and running the great shows of the Golden Age of Radio. They lived in a fifteen-room apartment overlooking Central Park and had an estate in Connecticut. They hobnobbed with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Orson Welles, and Gregory Peck, they rented out a cottage on the Connecticut property to J.D. Salinger as he was finishing Catcher in the Rye.

Mostly, though, they collected art. Lots of art – Degas, Manet, Renoir, Picasso were among the artists. Himan and Mildred filed for divorce around 1966. It was not amicable. They did, however, reach an agreement in 1967 and the divorce was granted. Mildred received $1,500 a month in alimony and their 1966 Corvair.

They came to a ‘side agreement’ – Mildred would have possession, not ownership, of 34 pieces of art. If she predeceased Himan, the paintings went back to him for his lifetime. At the death of the survivor, the art was to go to the children. It’s said that this was Mildred’s only real non-negotiable condition for the divorce.

Mildred died in 1974, the paintings went back to Himan. His relationship with his son, Barry, was acrimonious. At best, it appears. Somewhere, sometime after his mother’s death he started making claims that his father was selling off the paintings promised to him and his sister.

Barry tried to sue his father for breach of contract, courts found he lacked the standing to do so as the agreement about the art was between his mother and father. Himan died in 2010. There are, as we wrote last week, a host of issues with the estate. Barry, though, finally received his share of the art.

There was, however, a problem. At least according to the new lawsuits filed by Barry. Simply, the paintings had been switched out for a series of forgeries. The giveaway? Each painting has the same, new, stretcher under the canvas. Pretty much a physical impossibility. Only one painting proved to be real.

More litigation, all because a separation agreement years ago didn’t adequately cover … life.

Let us know If you have run across anything like this and have any questions or concerns. Please feel free to call a member of our team and schedule a consultation with our office.