An international court ruled this week that a large amount of extremely valuable and historical papers be turned over to the Israeli national library. A recent New York Times article delved into the high-profile case. Of course, it is important to keep in mind that the way this international court ruled may not have been the same as an American court. Nevertheless, this case is a wake up call to all that without careful estate planning in relation to how an individual wants to handle his or her personal property that it could end up in a bitter and costly legal battle.
Franz Kafka was a famous and influential author in the early 20th century. His papers included tens of thousands of pages, written by Kafka and his long-time friend and journalist, Max Brod.
Kafka died in 1924 but when his friend, Mr. Brod escaped from Europe and the Nazis in 1939 he took a suitcase of the Kafka papers with him to what was then Palestine (now Israel). Mr. Brod was the executor of Kafka’s estate. The Israeli government believes that these papers have tremendous historical and literary significance. The documents included sketches, notes, diaries and letters that were written by Kafka but were not discovered for over 40 years.
Mr. Brod died in 1968 and he bequeathed to his secretary, Esther Hoffe, all of his and Kafka’s papers and documents that he was keeping. Ms. Hoffe kept them in her Tel Aviv (Israel)
apartment. Ms. Hoffe sold one of Kafka’s manuscript that she was given for $2 million in 1988 after a scholar was allowed to examine them for authenticity.
When Ms. Hoffe died a few years ago, the documents and manuscripts passed on to her daughters. One of the daughters, Eva Hoffe, became embroiled in the legal battle that ensued between her family and the Israeli government contending that the documents belonged to their history and should be located in their national library or museum.
The Legal Battle
Ms. Hoffa’s daughter claimed that she was destitute and that the papers were a gift from Mr.
Brod to her mother. On the other hand, the government argued that Mr. Brod didn’t really give the papers to Ms. Hoffe as a gift, but that his secretary was given these documents to keep in trust and to be disposed of per his wishes. Since Mr. Brod’s will did not specifically state what was supposed to be done with these papers and valuable documents, the Israeli government pursued their argument and persuaded the judge that the materials should be sent to the Hebrew University. The judge took note that Mr. Brod’s will from 1948 instructed his estate that his archive is to go to a “public Jewish library or national library” is housed. Ms. Hoffe plans to appeal the judge’s decision.
While most local residents may have have valuable documents to pass along, the basic principles apply to all regarding the need to clearly delineated wishes for personal property.
You need to be very careful and specific with respect to personal property and estate planning.
Possession of documents or property does not mean that you have a legal right to keep
them. For help with these matters in San Diego or surrounding communities please consider contacting the estate planning attorney at the Law Office of Scott Soady for guidance.