When people die, it is the duty of the administrators of their estates to gather in their assets and distribute them to those entitled to inherit them. As a case concerning the contents of a deceased artist’s flat showed, however, that task is by no means always a straightforward one.
Following the highly regarded artist’s death, the administrator of his estate – his brother – sought possession of the numerous works of art and other potentially valuable items that belonged to him. Many such artefacts were believed to be contained in a flat the artist had shared with his partner.
After discussions came to nothing and the partner declined access to the flat or to hand over relevant artefacts in his possession, the administrator lodged a claim against him, alleging wrongful interference with goods. Interim orders were twice obtained requiring him to deliver up the artefacts.
The first order was not complied with after the partner claimed to have COVID-19. When solicitors, accompanied by workmen and the police, attended the flat with a view to executing the second order, the partner was adamant that he was not going to allow them in to remove the artefacts. Faced with that impasse, the administrator applied for a finding of contempt of court against him.
When the partner failed to attend the hearing of that application, the High Court issued a bench warrant for his arrest. If that did not succeed in enforcing his attendance, the Court anticipated hearing the application in his absence. If found in contempt, he would face a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine or two years’ imprisonment.
The partner having failed to acknowledge service of the wrongful interference claim, the Court entered a default judgment against him and made a final order requiring him to immediately deliver up any of the artist’s possessions under his power or control. He was also required to provide information concerning the whereabouts of any artefacts that may have been removed from the flat and to pay the administrator’s legal costs, summarily assessed at over £60,000.