A Gift You Cannot Return

Family 2

The Brooklyn Museum seemed to have garnered a bonanza in 1932 when it received a large bequest from the estate of Col. Michael Friedsam, president of the elegant retail emporium B. Altman. But eight decades later … the museum potentially faces a hefty bill to store the 229 pieces it no longer wants.

Ever been in possession of a gift you cannot return? No, I’m not talking about a post-Christmas conundrum where you don’t have the receipt or the tags are missing. What happens if you can no longer keep a gift given to you through someone’s will? This is a problem so many museums face each year in regards to gifts they receive through the wills of deceased art collectors.

One museum currently on the hook is the Brooklyn Museum in New York. The New York Times recently reported on its plight regarding a gifted collection in an article titled “Brooklyn Museum Finds Some Problematic Gifts Can’t Be Returned.

It seems that in 1932, Colonel Michael Friedsam gave a massive collection to the then fledgling museum. Nevertheless, since then the museum has grown and has too much to put on its walls, no longer displays items like historic battle axes, and half the Colonel’s collection turned out to be fakes or “not of museum quality.” Bottom line: the museum wants to give or sell the artworks and stop paying the exorbitant storage and restoration fees.

Now, it’s not that the museum is unappreciative. No, it’s more complicated even than that. Unfortunately, the Colonel’s will legally excludes any option the Colonel’s estate executor hasn’t signed off on. Even more unfortunately, the last executor died in 1962.

The lesson for those with artworks worth preserving for future generations is to include alternatives permitting like-minded individuals (executors) to further your objectives for your gifts in the future.

Frankly, the Colonel and his estate planners couldn’t have foreseen the next 90 years. But let that be a lesson when it comes to your planning. Predicting the future can be a very tricky thing. So, how are your gifts structured? Consult your estate planning attorney for more advice.

Reference: The New York Times (January 15, 2012) “Brooklyn Museum Finds Some Problematic Gifts Can’t Be Returned

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