Although there have been several allegations of wrongdoing—including serious claims of neglect, exploitation, forgery and theft by artist Robert Indiana’s caretaker—the legal fight centers on the future of the artist’s remaining assets, which are valued at $90 million and his legacy.
The Art Newspaper’s recent article entitled “Maine attorney general says that Robert Indiana’s estate was overcharged by as much as $3.7m in legal fees” explains that the main battle is between the personal representative of the estate, James W. Brannan, and the Morgan Art Foundation in New York, which fabricated and sold Indiana’s work for many years. The late artist’s Star of Hope Foundation, which was the sole beneficiary of the artist's last will, is attempting to start a museum in Indiana’s former home in Vinalhaven, Maine.
It seemed as though the litigation was close to a settlement, when a new issue came up: the Maine attorney general’s office has found that Indiana’s estate—which has spent about $8.4 million in legal fees and counting—was overcharged by as much as $3.7 million.
The attorney general’s office has filed papers in Knox County Probate Court demanding that Brannan return that amount to the estate, according to The New York Times. Brannon responded that the fees reached that level due to the complexity of the litigation. However, the attorney general’s office said in its filing that it has “provided the estate with its expert’s detailed analysis of the excessiveness of the attorneys’ fees.”
The AG’s Office has also asked questions about the fees that Brannan himself was earning as executor. They raised alarms about the extent to which the increasing legal bills have impacted the foundation’s ability to fulfill its mission of creating the museum. According to The Times, the foundation said in legal documents last fall that Brannan had personally billed the estate almost $1.5 million. Brannan’s lawyer, Sigmund D. Schutz, said in an interview that the costly legal fight was justified because it could ultimately increase the estate’s value. He also explained that Brannan’s personal fees were not only for him but for his entire office.
Schutz also argued that any reimbursements should come from the firms that received the excessive compensation, not Brannon, who made the disbursements. The AG disagrees, contending that any responsibility for the overpayment to outside law firms belongs strictly to Brannan.
During the case, the estate has resorted to selling artworks to pay the legal fees.
For more information visit my Wichita Estate Planning Attorney website.
Reference: The Art Newspaper (April 26, 2021) “Maine attorney general says that Robert Indiana’s estate was overcharged by as much as $3.7m in legal fees”