By Matthew Wilcox

When current appraisal standards are met by a qualified appraiser, an appraisal document today is a veritable catalogue of personal property, and can prove an excellent tool for collections management, distributions, and estate planning.

Each entry on a written appraisal should include:

  • a brief description
  • title
  • quantity (if pair, set, etc.)
  • country or region of origin
  • medium or materials
  • date or period of production
  • markings (including signatures, maker's marks, manufacturer's marks, inscriptions),
  • full description of observable physical characteristics, dimensions or weight (as appropriate given the object)
  • condition
  • reference to any base, support or frame

Also included should be any known information about:

  • the object’s ownership history (provenance)
  • exhibition history
  • publication record
  • point of acquisition (gallery, artist, auction, etc.) and
  • conservation history

Noting the current location of the property can also save endless headaches later. Lastly, the entry should include a good photograph of each object.

Once this legwork has been accomplished, an appraisal document should be safely stored like any other important financial planning document.

While the values stated will require periodic updates, the foundation of the document will remain correct and useful. An appraisal can be easily updated, and even modified for different purposes. An estate appraisal can be converted to an insurance appraisal by researching  figures to reflect retail replacement, instead of Fair Market Value. 

An appraisal document can prove ownership in the case of theft and help heirs clarify distributions.

Other uses
An appraisal document can prove ownership in the case of theft and help heirs clarify distributions. As the centralized repository for all relevant information, an appraisal can help future generations by retaining critical facts so often and so easily lost with the passage of time.  For example, in a recent estate appraisal of a client’s mother’s estate that Freeman’s conducted, it was not the first-hand knowledge of the heir, but two old insurance appraisals that contributed important information about provenance, purchase and exhibition history of the subject artworks.  Updated values were supported by this information. Finally, often vague language in a decedent’s will makes identifying an intended bequest difficult. With a numbered, descriptive and photographed appraisal in hand, clear identification is facilitated.

Optimal utility to an appraisal document requires periodic updates for both the values stated and the locations, as items often move from room to room, or from one home to another. If an object is sold or otherwise removed, it should not remain on the appraisal document but record of the sale or removal should be preserved to prevent heirs from going on wild goose chases later. Best practice would also include physically tagging objects with the appraisal numeration to tie the property and the document together. This is particularly helpful for collectors who often possess large quantities of similar-looking property and duplicates within a collection. While distinguishing between two similar items might be second nature for a savvy collector, heirs might find it impossible. Again, if all property is clearly recorded and tied to an appraisal, such confusion can be avoided.

Contact a Freeman’s Trusts & Estates professional today to learn more about the appraisal process and how our specialists can help you with your collection.

About the Author
Matthew Wilcox serves as a vice president in Freeman's Trusts & Estates department and is our Mid-Atlantic Regional Representative. He specializes in providing verbal auction valutaions for single items or entire collections and formal written appraisals for estate-planning, estate tax, charitable donations, gift tax and insurance. Continue reading here.

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