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An art collection is a special asset to account for in an estate plan

An art collection is a special asset to account for in an estate plan

Some assets pose more of a challenge than others when it comes to valuing and accounting for them in an estate plan. Take, for instance, an art collection. If you possess paintings, sculptures or other pieces of art, they may represent a significant portion of your estate. Here are a few options available to address an art collection in your estate plan.

Sell, bequest or donate

Generally, there are three options for handling your pieces of art in your estate plan: Sell them, bequest them to your loved ones, or donate them to a museum or charity. Let’s take a closer look at each option:

  1. If you opt to sell, keep in mind that long-term capital gains on artwork and other “collectibles” are taxed at a top rate of 28%, compared with 20% for other types of assets. Rather than selling pieces of art during your lifetime, it may be preferable to include them in your estate to take advantage of the stepped-up basis. That higher basis will allow your heirs to reduce or even eliminate the 28% tax. For example, you might leave the collection to a trust and instruct the trustee to sell it and invest or distribute the proceeds for the benefit of your loved ones.
  2. If you prefer to keep the artwork in your family, you may opt to leave it to your heirs. You could make specific bequests of individual artworks to various family members, but there are no guarantees that the recipients will keep the pieces and treat them properly. A better approach may be to leave the collection to a trust, LLC or other entity — with detailed instructions on its care and handling — and appoint a qualified trustee or manager to oversee maintenance and display of the collection and make selling and purchasing decisions.
  3. Donating your artwork can be an effective way to avoid capital gains tax and estate tax and to ensure that your collection becomes part of your legacy. It also entitles you or your estate to claim a charitable tax deduction. To achieve these goals, however, the process must be handled carefully. For example, to maximize the charitable deduction, the artwork must be donated to a public charity rather than a private foundation. And the recipient’s use of the artwork must be related to its tax-exempt purpose. Also, if you wish to place any conditions on the donation, you’ll need to negotiate the terms with the recipient before you deliver the items.

If you plan to leave your collection to loved ones or donate it to charity, it’s critical to discuss your plans with the intended recipients. If your family isn’t interested in receiving or managing your artwork or if your charitable beneficiary has no use for it, it’s best to learn of this during your lifetime so you have an opportunity to make alternative arrangements.

Seek a professional appraisal 

It’s vitally important to have your artwork appraised periodically by a professional. The frequency depends in part on the type of art you collect, but generally it’s advisable to obtain an appraisal at least every three years, if not annually.

Regular appraisals give you an idea of how the collection is growing in value and help you anticipate tax consequences down the road. Also, most art donations, gifts or bequests require a “qualified appraisal” by a “qualified appraiser” for tax purposes.

In addition, catalog and photograph your collection and gather all appraisals, bills of sale, insurance policies and other provenance documents. These items will be necessary for the recipient or recipients of your artwork to carry out your wishes.

Enjoy your collection

A primary goal of estate planning is to remove appreciating assets from your estate as early as possible to minimize gift and estate taxes. But for many, works of art are more than just assets. Indeed, collectors want to enjoy displaying these works in their homes and may be reluctant to part with them. We can help you properly address your art collection in your estate plan.

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