In estate administration, a decedent’s assets are gathered, valued and disbursed according to the decedent’s wishes once all debts are paid. It can be a straightforward process if the estate consists of common assets such as bank accounts, routine investments and a home or other real estate.
Administering an estate becomes more complex when it includes art, stamps, antiques, sports memorabilia or another category of collectibles to which a person devotes time and money. Such a collection may have significant monetary value and great emotional value to family members or friends. It is also possible that no beneficiary shares the decedent’s interest in the category of collectible, and the will contained no specific directions to keep the collection intact.
One person’s trash is another’s treasure
Bob Carlson, founder of Retirement Watch, a website and newsletter about financial issues in retirement, cautions estate executors to treat collections with great care. A compilation of decades’ worth of political campaign buttons, for example, may not seem of much value to an executor who is not interested in such a thing, but it could bring a hefty price among avid collectors of campaign memorabilia.
Someone who has a unique collection of any sort should be specific in his or her will how that collection should be handled in the administration of the estate. If someone in the family shares that person’s interest, the collection can be bequeathed to that person so it remains intact and appreciated.
Include information about a collection in the will
Carlson advises a collector to be certain that anyone who inherits collectibles has the knowledge and resources to properly maintain and perhaps expand the collection. Some collectibles require special storage or maintenance that can be costly. A separate endowment may be necessary to provide the means to accomplish this.
It is wise to inventory a collection regularly and have it appraised as well. If an executor is tasked with selling a collection, the testator – the person who writes the will – may be able to line up a buyer and note that in the will. If not, the testator should make sure the executor knows how to obtain an accurate value of the collection. One mistake that occurs too often, says, Carlson, is a collection is sold at a fraction of its worth because the executor has no knowledge about the asset category and feels rushed to sell the collection.