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Tips for Dispensing a Collector’s Estate 

Terry Kovel

Dear Lee,

No one warns you that the hardest part of a death, funeral and burial can come weeks later, after all the family and visitors are gone and you are responsible for jobs like emptying an apartment and making sure the heirs divide the belongings without a misunderstanding. Most people have some idea how the money, house and investments will be handled by a trusted executor or lawyer, but it is surprising how often a family member thinks a valuable painting, expensive silver tea set or a car was promised to them.

Here is a list of things you and your family might not think about during the emotional weeks after the funeral. You need an expert if the estate includes a serious collection like bottles or toys  or 18th-century Chinese porcelains or comic books or Shaker furniture. Don’t sell or give anything away until you have checked with the lawyer handling the will. A close relative, friend or lawyer can get you through the first days.

Some warnings: The obituary usually includes the hours and address for visitations. Be sure someone is in the house during the funeral. An empty collector’s house is a target. Go through the house and remove any artwork small enough to be put in a pocket. You may not know everyone visiting after services. Lock all upstairs doors and the basement. Be sure all windows and doors are locked at night, even if the house is empty.

If the estate requires a special appraisal of a collection, check with other collectors or knowledgeable appraisers or someone who is a member of one of the appraisers’ associations, International Association of Appraisers (ISA) or American Society of Appraisers (ASA).  A friend called us to ask if it was necessary to include her jewelry in the amount left to her in the will. It was almost all gifts from her husband, so it belonged to her. Collections are tricky to value and recent online auctions have had low estimates and high prices.

Email all questions to your lawyer. Phone calls bill by the minute and are more expensive. Find out the different rates for the lawyer and the staff. Always check the bill and time charged. Remember they work for you. You can always change to different legal counsel.

My favorite tip:  Before you close all credit cards and memberships that give refunds or “points,” make sure to cash out all points or rewards or transfer them to another open credit card. I know of a “gold card” holder who died with thousands of free miles on the card. The heir opened a gold account and had the rewards worth hundreds of dollars transferred.

Before giving away clothing, check every single pocket. Open purses and wallets. Our newsletter editor Susan remembers her parents discovering money stuffed in pants pockets and old purses everywhere in her grandparents’ house. Her parents were getting ready to sell the house and were giving everything away. Their theory was that the grandparents, who had lived through the Depression, didn’t trust banks.

Extra tip: Take old money to be evaluated by currency experts. Older money can be worth more than its face value.

Finally, if you are looking at inherited silver items, check out the melt-down value before giving it to your neighborhood thrift store. You could be giving money away.






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