An Estate Problem That Is Becoming More Common

Estate Planning has two parts. The first part of it is while you are living. Planning here ensures both comfortable living and the creation of assets to distribute to those who you wish to favour. The second part is the distribution plan. How your estate moves onward after death.

Executors manage the transition.

It is a weak plan that creates problems for executors and ambiguity for heirs.

The growing problem

There have always been problems with heirlooms and monuments. Heirlooms were generally not a huge part of the estate and things have tended to work out. People have known forever that the only impossible negotiation involves some unique asset that more than one person wants. Do you have anything like that in your estate. Resolve it now.

If you don’t it eventually becomes an auction, monetary or emotional, and results in a perfect compromise. All of the contestants end up equally angry.

Today some wealthy people have estates that include significant value tied up in alternative assets. Jewelry, art, and antique furniture is one section, but people know how to deal with these. Collectibles are growing and many people don’t know what to do.

What should executors do with collectibles? From a T206 Honus Wagner baseball card at $6.6 million, to a multi-thousand bottle wine cellar, to non-fungible tokens, coins, and even Beanie Babies. There are several aspects to the problem:

  1. How much are they worth?
  2. What is the cost base for taxes?
  3. How should they be insured and secured?
  4. Where are they?
  5. How do you know when you have all of them?

Bear in mind the probability approaches certainty that the executors will know almost nothing about the nuance and value of the collections. You have to help them.

Questions for you.

  1. Do you have an up-to-date inventory listing with explanations of the peculiarities?
  2. Do you know the cost of acquisition and any restoration or other costs?
  3. How many will disappear before the executors can control them?
  4. How should the executors respond if there are missing pieces?

Many people see the accounting problem to be bigger than the estate problem could be. They might be wrong.

Many years ago a friend told me about his mother’s antique chocolate-mug collection. I cannot claim to have been enthralled. I became more interested later.

The collection occupies an entire room in the family home. The walls are completely shelved. There are approximately 2,500 mugs and little else in that room. They are valuable. The prize in the collection is a left-handed mustache mug. It may be the only one that exists of its kind and age. I was still at the ho-hum stage. Until I asked his Dad what they were worth. His reply was, “More than the house.”

Now that might not make an impression on everyone, but their house was a 3-story, 24-room, 12,000 square foot mansion on a 5-acre oceanfront lot. He further commented that the top 100 pieces by themselves would be worth close to the value of the house. If a nefarious someone knows these facts and selects and removes maybe 25 of the best pieces, how would the executors know when they appear to take inventory a week after the funeral? 2,475 mugs look pretty much like 2,500 mugs. If an heir claims some are missing what would the executors do next? Maybe Mom sold them. Maybe they are somewhere else. Maybe it broke.

The moral: Keep careful inventory records of valuable collections. It is a giant pain, but estate problems often involve things the deceased treated as incidental. Avoid permanent family discord over something you can fix.

You might enjoy this article. Collectibles present a unique challenge for executors

The bits to take away

Executors face many problems. Don’t add to their burden

Things that are easily transported tend to disappear unless pains are taken to prevent the loss.

Keep good records. It will make tax filing easier and provide a trail for insurance, security, and valuation.

Most people plan the big things in their estate. Most estate disputes don’t involve big things. The planning made those easy to handle. Think about your estate from the executors’ point of view and act on what you see. Collectibles can easily become an unsolvable problem.


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I build strategic, fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways to achieve spending and estate distribution goals. In the past, I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning. I have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and Banks – from CIBC to the Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email at don.shaughnessy@gmail.com

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