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Four of Ojibwa artist Norval Morrisseau's children plan to contest the late painter's will once it is filed in B.C. Supreme Court. Morrisseau died in a Toronto hospital Dec. 4 at 76, having spent most of his final 20 years living in British Columbia.

Last month the children - three sons and one daughter - deposited a caveat in Supreme Court in Victoria, warning that any probate of Morrisseau's will could not commence without them receiving notice. The caveat says the children "oppose the issue of a grant of probate" on numerous grounds, including their belief that Morrisseau, diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in the early 1990s, was of unsound mind when the will was drawn up and that he lacked "approval or knowledge of [its]contents."

Morrisseau's will has yet to be filed in court. Until last month there was even doubt as to whether one had been drafted but recently a lawyer for Gabor Vadas, Morrisseau's long-time caregiver, based in Nanaimo, B.C., confirmed its existence.

The decision to contest is the latest instalment in what could be a long-running battle between Vadas and members of Morrisseau's immediate family. (Morrisseau and his late wife, Harriet Kakegamic, from whom he separated in the mid-1970s, had seven children.) Shortly after the artist's death, the four siblings cited in the caveat - Christian, Eugene and David Morrisseau and Victoria Kakekagumick - intervened in a plan by Vadas to have Morrisseau cremated in Toronto. Eventually, an agreement was reached to have Morrisseau buried, without cremation, alongside his ex-wife's grave in Northern Ontario.

The caveat asserts that Vadas is named the executor of Morrisseau's will and the sole beneficiary of the artist's estate. Vadas, 42, befriended the famous painter in the late 1980s when both were living on the streets of Vancouver, Morrisseau an alcoholic and drug abuser, Vadas a fatherless high-school drop-out. The relationship eventually became such that Morrisseau identified Vadas as his son and companion shaman. Their bond - and Vadas's de facto role as the artist's business manager - continued through Vadas's marriage in the early 1990s and his fathering of two children, now 17 and 12.

A phone call and two e-mails to Vadas from The Globe and Mail for confirmation of his status with respect to the Morrisseau will were not returned.

Some estimate Morrisseau painted as many as 15,000 individual works in his lifetime, but is thought to have been inactive as an artist for at least his last three years. It's not known how many Morrisseaus were left in Vadas's possession at the time of his death or consigned to dealers. Because of the variety of Morrisseau's output, individual paintings by him have been priced from $5,000 to more than $100,000.

In October, 2005, the Norval Morrisseau Heritage Society was established, in part, to prepare a catalogue raisonné of the artist's authenticated works. Included in the six-member society is Greg A. Hill, head and chief curator of indigenous art at the National Gallery of Canada, which hosted a highly successful retrospective of Morrisseau's work in 2006. The society's work has the endorsement of Vadas. In the meantime, Morrisseau's sons and daughter have established their own organization, the Morrisseau Family Foundation, headed by 38-year-old Christian, who is a painter like his father. Christian has said the foundation will also authenticate works by his father and "protect and nourish the Morrisseau family legacy."

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