Famous photographs in limbo during estate administration dispute

by | Apr 23, 2014 | Probate Litigation |

A Manhattan Surrogate’s Court is being asked to decide the fate of some of the most historic pictures of the 20th century. A dispute has arisen between the heirs of a woman and Time-Warner, the owners of Life magazine over a collection of famous photographs with an estimated value of $50,000. The pictures were taken by a photographer who worked under contract for Life magazine and once filmed such historical luminaries as Hitler and Mussolini, Winston Churchill, Sofia Lauren, Chelsea Clinton and perhaps most famously, the V-J day picture of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square to celebrate the end of WWII.

The dispute began after the heirs of a deceased woman placed a collection of the photos up for auction at Sotheby’s. Apparently, Time-Warner became aware of the photos and asserted a claim against them. According to Time-Warner, they had an agreement with the photographer in the form of a contract which granted them ownership of all the photographs and negatives he took beginning at the beginning of 1929 and ending in mid- 1994. Sotheby’s has frozen the collection since the dispute began in April of last year. They say that they won’t release the photographs to either party until the ownership is legally established.

The attorney for the heirs of the woman says that his client received the photos as gifts from the artist himself before the establishment of any contract. It is also his assertion that Time-Warner is unable to prove that the photographs in dispute actually belong to the media conglomerate because an inventory listing all of the pictures the photographer took for them does not exist.

This case highlights the need to engage an expert in estate administration prior to one’s death. Establishing beneficiaries, distribution of assets and tax responsibilities are things that one should not try and tackle alone without first consulting an expert in the field. There are just too many unforeseen events to leave something as precious as one’s life work to the often unpredictable judgment of the courts.

Source: DNAinfo.com, “Time Warner in Fight For Revered Photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt’s Prints” James Fanelli, Apr. 21, 2014