This week the Telegraph reported that Salvador Dalí’s body will be exhumed as part of a lawsuit involving his purported illegitimate daughter and her claim to his estate. Pilar Abel Martínez, a psychic fortune-teller and resident of Dalí’s hometown, Figueres, Spain, has claimed since 2007 that she is the artist’s forgotten daughter. According to Ms. Martínez, her mother had an affair with the famous painter in 1955 while working as a maid in a house near the Dalí residence. If DNA samples from the disinterred corpse match Ms. Martínez’s DNA, she could be entitled to a sizeable portion of the artist’s $325 million estate.
Salvador Dalí was born in Figueres in 1904 to parents who nurtured his artistic spirit. They sent him to study painting at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando-Madrid in 1922. He was soon expelled for claiming that none of the faculty were competent to examine him. After his expulsion, Dalí became a prominent figure in the surrealist art movement, with notable works including Persistence of Memory and Swans Reflecting Elephants.
In 1929, the artist fell in love with his future wife, Gala, who at the time was married to another Spanish poet. Dalí and Gala married in a civil ceremony in 1934, but, according to Troy Lennon, a history writer for The Daily Telegraph, their relationship remained open and Dalí encouraged Gala’s frequent affairs. The two later married in the Catholic Church in 1958. Glenys Roberts suggests that the marriage and Dalí’s newfound devotion to Catholicism may have resulted from Dalí’s guilt over his secret philandering. In 1980, Gala started drugging her husband with unprescribed medications that caused Dalí to have fits and spasms, rendering him unable to paint. He died in 1989 at age 84, and his estate passed to the Spanish state. The Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation and the Spanish State inherited his works.
Had Dali been a California resident, Ms. Martínez would file a claim as an omitted heir. An omitted heir is a child who the testator (in this case Dalí) did not know existed. The law presumes that had the testator known the child existed, the testator would have provided for the child in his will. Spanish law, to which Dali’s estate is subject, might be much different regarding omitted heirs, but it’s a good lesson nonetheless. California Probate Code § 21622 provides the following regarding omitted heirs:
“If, at the time of the execution of all of decedent’s testamentary instruments effective at the time of decedent’s death, the decedent failed to provide for a living child solely because the decedent believed the child to be dead or was unaware of the birth of the child, the child shall receive a share in the estate equal in value to that which the child would have received if the decedent had died without having executed any testamentary instruments.”
While there are limitations, the omitted heir code also applies to children born after the execution of a will. If Dalí were a California resident and Ms. Martínez could establish herself as his daughter, she would be entitled to his entire estate.
In our experience, omitted heir cases are rare. In one instance, a husband intentionally failed to inform us about his illegitimate child until after his wife (not the child’s mother) died. Omitted heir lawsuits are rare; however in some cases, such as Pilar Abel Martínez’s, the child stands to inherit a good deal of money.