Family Law Blog

Putting paternity to rest

Posted by Kirstie Barfoot on 30 Oct 2017

Assisted by Madison Kelly

When a high net worth individual’s estates are looming, how far would you go to prove you are entitled to some of it? 

Salvador Dali, one of the fathers of surrealist art, died in 1989 and is buried in his museum in the north-eastern town of Figueres in Spain. Dali bestowed his estate to the Spanish state however, a fortune teller by the name of Pilar Abel from the nearby city of Girona claimed she was the offspring of an affair between Dali and her mother, Antonia. In response, a Spanish judge ordered the exhumation of his remains in order to settle the paternity suit - despite loud condemnation from those who labelled her as a gold-digger. 

Ms Abel claimed that she was the product of a secret love affair between her domestic worker mother and the artist, who was then living with his wife, Gala. Abel sued the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation and the Spanish state which controls Dali’s estate, in order to be recognised as his legal heir. Abel claimed her mother and grandmother revealed Dali was her father when she was eight years old. 

A Madrid court statement said that DNA tests from Dali's embalmed body were necessary because there were no other existing biological remains with which to make a genetic comparison. Abel’s lawyer said that they would only take hair samples or a tooth, in order to try and avoid damaging the body. 

The Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation strongly objected and did everything in its power to fight the exhumation, arguing that it was “humiliating and disrespectful to the legacy of the artist.” 

Considering Dali’s body was sealed with a one and a half tonne tombstone, cranes had to be brought in for the operation. Special sheeting was also used to prevent drones from spying overhead so it would seem like claims of the operation being disrespectful weren’t entirely unwarranted.  

Apparently, Abel had been trying to settle this paternity claim for more than a decade, and was relieved with that the exhumation was taking place, stating she was “very positive," that the results would show positive. "I think that it has been long enough" she told a press conference. 

Under Spanish law, if there was a match, Ms Abel could use Dali as her surname and pursue further legal action to claim up to 25 per cent of all of the estate. However, Ms Abel she said she was not thinking about the process afterwards, only her desire to know her true identity. She said she was not motivated by financial gain, stating "my father deserves more than that," but refused to deny the possibility of making a claim. 

The DNA results have since been returned, and the results prove that the Ms Abel and Mr Dali are in fact not related. Salvador Dali’s body was then ‘tampered’ with for no purpose however, it does make you wonder whether this case opens a dangerous floodgate for people to make paternity claims to other high profile deaths that will ensue in future.