Nazi art hoard serves as a lesson from history, says leading solicitor

A leading solicitor says the discovery of a £1billion hoard of art looted by the Nazis serves as an important lesson for everyone.

Ian Bond, a partner in Higgs & Sons’ private client team, says years of legal action is now likely before nearly 1,500 pieces of art – including previously unknown pieces by Picasso,
Matisse and Chagall – can be returned to their rightful owners.

Ian says the case highlights the need for everyone to clearly document their own possessions to avoid the same legal battlefield.

The hoard was recovered from a Munich flat belonging to Cornelius Gurlitt, the sole surviving son of celebrated Nazi-era art collector and dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt and has staggered the art world.

Ian said: “This discovery will lead to years of litigation as families of the deceased victims of the looting try to establish ownership of assets which were once in their family.”

He said the person in possession of the art was presumed to be the rightful owner unless there was clear and compelling evidence to prove otherwise.

“In the case of the Nazi looting the ability to produce evidence to show ownership is difficult given the passage of time and the destruction of many records during the war itself.

“Today, there are simple legal steps everyone can take to ensure their possessions are clearly documented, along with their wishes over what should happen to them on their death.

“At Higgs & Sons we suggest making a will with a separate letter of wishes that sets out what valuable personal possessions you own and who they should go to. We also suggest that if you have valuable art or antiques that you document your ownership, make sure the items are sensibly insured and keep detailed records of the collection to avoid any potential for dispute after you have gone.”

Ian said legislation was currently passing through the House of Lords to bring the legal definition of what constitutes personal effects and possessions up to date.

“The new Inheritance and Trustees’ Powers Bill introduced recently in the House of Lords is due to change definition of personal chattels to make it more relevant to modern society and give a more general definition that can encompass changes in technology and reflects the reality of modern life.”

Higgs & Sons works from two offices in the Black Country – Waterfront Business Park in Brierley Hill and Kingswinford. The firm employs more than 200 people, which includes over 100 specialist lawyers.

For specialist advice on making or amending your will call Ian on 0845 111 5050 or email