Some assets—such as real property, stocks and savings—are fairly straightforward when it comes to bequeathal to heirs; other assets—such as valuable artwork or antiques—are not so easy. How do you will an asset to a loved one when there is no deed of ownership? And just as importantly, how do these paperless assets figure into the size and administration of your “taxable estate”?

According to this article by Bonnie Kraham, how you dispose of these assets can be extremely important to the administration and taxation of your estate. One particularly dangerous method is referred to as “the empty hook” method, wherein “When the collector dies, the beneficiaries simply remove the artwork (from the hooks) in accordance with name tags on the items for the intended recipients. Thus, the estate is left with “empty hooks” of what may be part of a sizable taxable estate for estate tax purposes.”

The problem that arises with the “empty hook” method is that wealthy families who collect artwork or antiques as investments often have records of their purchases and sales, as well as a list of valuable items for insurance purposes. Any of these documents and records would be reviewed during probate or administration of the estate. “If you don’t fully disclose the value of your art collection, or don’t properly plan to gift art in compliance with estate tax rules and regulations, you can pass on tax fraud, instead of art, to your beneficiaries.”

Perhaps the best way to hold and legally dispose of your art or antiques collection upon your death is to transfer ownership of these valuable assets into a trust. “Transferring your art collection to a trust may be the most effective, efficient and transparent way to administer your estate after death . . . Trusts are private documents and, although the tax reporting remains the same for trust assets, trusts protect the privacy of an art collector or artist, which can be an emotional protection for the beneficiaries.” Additionally, keeping valuable artwork in trust provides an extra layer of protection from divorce or frivolous lawsuits during your lifetime.

Contact our office, or your own local estate planning attorney, for more information.