Inheriting Headaches

As I once wrote, gifts and bequests can carry a double edge for the institutions which receive them.

Here is an interesting problem for the Brooklyn Museum, as reported today by the New York Times. A major bequest made in 1932 of nearly 1,000 fine paintings and artifacts seemed at first like a wonderful windfall, but is now, to some extent, a white elephant.

The huge collection was left to the museum by Col. Michael Friedsam, head of the legendary Altman department store and an associated philantrophic foundation.

First snag: About a fourth of the items were either forgeries or misattributions or basically not up to snuff in some way. So the museum wouldn’t mind selling the 229 pieces it no longer wants (but has to spend lots of money storing).

Second snag: Friedsam’s will specified that nothing could be disposed of without permission from the executors. And the last executor died in 1962.

Sounds like a job for a forensic genealogist. From the Times’ story by Patricia Cohen:

Noting that the will specified that the art should go to the colonel’s brother-in-law and two friends if the collection were not kept together, Judge Nora Anderson told the museum in December 2011 that it must search for these three men’s descendants before she would rule.

Nothing’s ever simple, right?


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