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Family inheritance dispute saddens art world

His life was filled with adventure, academics and a breathtaking accumulation of Chinese art and wealth. C.C. Wang was known for escaping China’s civil war in 1949 and bringing his wife and young children to the capital of the art world, just 60 miles east of Flemington.

There, in New York City, he built a dazzling array of careers as accomplished artist, teacher, Sotheby’s consultant, real estate investor and art dealer and collector. What will the man who died in 2003 be remembered for most? It’s possible that for many, Wang will be remembered not for his considerable accomplishments, but for the years-long inheritance dispute between his daughter and son.

Before he died more than a decade ago, the New York Times reports that he left some of his art collection to his son, now 85 years old, and some to his daughter, now 79. Both of them served their father as business agent and confidant at different times.

Now the two are charging each other in federal and state lawsuits with deception and looting of their father’s collection worth tens of millions of dollars. The collection is also the subject of an IRS investigation: the agency seeks more than $20 million in estate taxes.

Meanwhile, the two Wang descendents accuse each other of taking and hiding “classical Chinese paintings and scrolls that has been described as among the finest in the world,” the Times reports.

There’s more than just classic art involved here: this story saddening the art world is also a classic example of how careful, thoughtful estate planning can help heirs avoid protracted disputes that can consume wealth.

Those with substantial assets do well to discuss their estate planning goals with an attorney experienced in helping clients clearly convey their wishes to their heirs with wills, trusts and other legal tools.

Source: New York Times, "A Family Battles Over a Disappearing Trove of Chinese Paintings," Graham Bowley, Oct. 15, 2014

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