Estate of Franz West – Supreme Court decides about transfer of art

Franz West

Estate of Franz West – Supreme Court decides about transfer of art

Thursday, 12 May, 2016

The internationally renowned artist Franz West died in 2012 after long suffering and left his wife and two children behind. A few days before his death, he signed a notarial deed by which he transferred his major art collection to a private foundation that was established only hours before his death. The estate of Franz West disputed this action because by transferring his major art collection to his foundation, Franz West neglected the inheritance rights of his children. Franz West was likely not in the right state of mind to understand the action he was performing and furthermore the deed itself was not legally binding. The dispute between the estate of Franz West, which is represented by Kerres | Partners, and the private foundation is still pending in Austrian Civil Courts.

Early in his lifetime, Franz West founded a charitable association, which would support the administration of many art pieces Franz West produced during his lifetime. The charitable association was entitled to the commercial use of certain art pieces by Franz West. The association disputes the notarial deed, in which Franz West supposedly transferred all his art to the newly established foundation. In this proceeding, the Austrian Supreme Court rendered a decision finding that the notarial deed, which had been signed by Franz West a few days before his death was invalid. The Supreme Court found the notarial deed to be invalid because the transfer of the art had not been properly accepted by the private foundation as recipient of the ownership and therefore a proper legal title for the transfer of the ownership of the art collection had not been established. The association therefore has a claim over the commercial use of some of the art pieces produced by Franz West. The present conduct of the business of the private foundation will significantly change based on this judgement.

In the proceeding of the estate of Franz West against the private foundation, the court has set the date for the next hearing on May 18, 2016. Although the court proceeding between the estate and the private foundation is technically a different proceeding, the courts will decide the same factual situation. It is likely, that therefore the Supreme Court will also confirm in the court proceeding of the estate of Franz West against the private foundation that the notarial deed of Franz West does not constitute a legal transfer of ownership of the art collection. There are many reasons to argue that a severely sick person in a hospital should not be persuaded to sign any significant notarial deeds, which may have significant consequences for his estate and his family. In the case of Franz West, it is unclear whether the artist understood what he signed in the hospital shortly before his death. The Supreme Court, however ruled that the lawyers involved in the agreement were possibly in such a rush in preparing the documentation that they did not fulfill all the contractual requirements to effect a legally valid and binding transfer of the ownership of the art collection of Franz West.

Dr Christoph Kerres LLM (Georgetown)

For more legal information please contact Mr Kerres via tel +43 (1) 516 60 or e-mail

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