On 26th November, the Board of Trustees of the Museum of Fine Arts Bern will decide whether to accept the bequest of Cornelius Gurlitt.
Unexpectedly, one of Gurlitt’s two cousins, Uta Werner, has threatened to challenge the will. Her claim is based on a psychiatric report, which she had commissioned from Dr Helmut Hausner, chief physician at the psychiatric clinic at the University Hospital Regensburg. The conclusion of the psychiatric report is that Mr Gurlitt was suffering from a “a slight dementia, a schizoid personality disorder, and a delusional disorder” when making his will on 9th January 2014. (See Section 2229(4) of the German Civil Code: A person who is incapable of realising the importance of a declaration of intent made by him and of acting in accordance with this realisation on account of pathological mental disturbance, mental deficiency or derangement of the senses may not make a will.)
If the challenge of the will is successful, Gurlitt’s two cousins and not the Museum of Fine Arts Bern will become the rightful owners of the art collection. (See Section 1926(1) of the German Civil Code: Heirs on intestacy of the third degree are the grandparents of the deceased and their descendants.)
To some Ms Werner’s threat has come as a surprise as she publicly stated as late as October 2014 that she had no interest in the inheritance. According to newspaper reports, Ms Werner’s change of mind arose from her annoyance with a statement from the head of the Gurlitt Task Force claiming that it would be for the best of the collection if the Museum of Fine Art Bern accepted the inheritance. According to Ms Werner, this statement implied that the Gurlitt family would not be in a position to handle the art collection appropriately. Reportedly, Ms Werner is seeking to prove the head of the Task Force wrong by suing for the inheritance and subsequently managing the estate herself.
The psychiatric report has been handed over to the Probate Court of Munich. However, since Ms Werner has not formally filed a claim, there is no basis on which the Probate Court could take action. It is questionable whether Ms Werner’s challenge would be upheld since, according to the administrator of the estate, there is a second psychiatric report by the neurologist who had been treating Gurlitt. In that report, Gurlitt was shown to have testamentary capacity.
The second cousin of Mr Gurlitt, Dietrich Gurlitt, has dissociated himself from Ms Werner’s claim. In his email to the director of the Museum of Fine Arts Bern he wrote “[a]s already stated in May, I hope that you will accept Mr Gurlitt’s bequest”.