Expert Opinion Casts Doubt on Gurlitt’s Testamentary Capacity to Make the Will that Names the Kunstmuseum Bern as Heir

Art Law Report 17 November 2014
By Nicholas O'Donnell

While we have tried to read the tea leaves and predict what the Kunstmuseum Bern will do on or before November 26 (the deadline to accept or reject the appointment as Cornelius Gurlitt’s heir)—and what others might do if the museum turns it down, less prominent has been the validity of the will in question itself.  It is far from a forgone conclusion, however, that his last-minute will would hold up under scrutiny.  The circumstances alone—an elderly person, under enormous international scrutiny, placed under a guardianship—beg the question.

After recent ruminations on the other heirs’ intentions, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on an expert opinion written by psychiatrist Helmut Hausner.  According to the SZ, Hausner highlighted several concerns:

·         Gurlitt was suffering from “paranoid delusions”

·         His “decision making process” had been “distorted” by the delusions, which existed as a “separate disease” since the 1960s

·         Hausner cited letters in which Gurlitt had expressed concern “for decades” of being persecuted by the Nazis.

·         He feared a plot to take away the pictures he inherited from his father Hildebrand.

In Hausner’s estimation, Gurlitt named the museum as his heir to escape the Nazis in Germany that he believed were pursuing him.

Given all this on the one hand, and the actual situation in Germany on the other (i.e., that Nazi Germany ended almost 70 years ago), one can wonder if he was indeed fit to make such a bequest.  It would be stunning if the museum’s decision ultimately did not matter, but no less surprising than so many other developments in this case.
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