Estate Planning—Stop the Squabbling, Save the Family

When it comes to dividing an estate, ordinarily level-headed, rational people often act like 3-year-olds arguing over who gets the Slinky and who gets the yo-yo. The funeral is barely concluded when the squabbling begins over the disposition of art, antiques and collectibles.

“Why do you get the antique Lalique wineglasses? You don’t know a Burgundy from a Bordeaux.”

“I’m taking the Napoleon III bookcase.”

“Oh no, you’re not. Aunty always said it would look perfect in my living room.”

And on and on.

I am often asked how to protect antiques. That question was posed to me by the nephew in a wealthy family. The nephew had just been appointed executor of his aunt’s estate. He is an attorney, and I saw immediately that he took the appointment very seriously.

The nephew’s aunt is elderly and in good health. She lives in a large stone home stuffed with three generations of antiques and collectibles, which, the nephew said, she did little to protect. Her many items included oyster plates, flow blue china, handguns and long guns from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. The nephew referred to his aunt’s home as a museum.

Stop the arguing before it begins

I asked about the will and the disposition of the antiques. The aunt had had an unpleasant experience some years past when she gave her siblings and nieces and nephews some of her collection. There were quarrels over who got which antique and dissatisfaction with individual items received. This was too much for the spinster aunt, who hated confrontation. Because of this, she had decided that all her belongings should be converted to cash and the cash given to her family and charities. She wants all her antiques and collectibles auctioned and each of her relatives given the opportunity to buy what they want.

We hired professionals to inventory and value the aunt’s extensive collection. The inventory consisted of digital images, serial numbers, detailed written description. We also had her home wired for security, and a security service hired. All the antiques and collectibles are insured now. The inventory will be checked at least annually by a qualified professional.

This list will help in identifying items stolen or lost. The insurance is expensive but deemed necessary to preserve the estate. I have found that in the case of most families, it is best to convert all estate items to cash to prevent sibling disagreements that last a lifetime.

The action taken in this case happened before WorthPoint. I will encourage the nephew to use WorthPoint’s Estate Services Division when that time comes. Please check out this division services.

– Jim Sturgill is a director of WorthPoint and founding partner of Sturgill & Associates LLP, a DC and Baltimore area CPA firm.

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