As the baby boomer generation ages, individuals, their families, and the legal professionals they may turn to face new challenges. Aging can bring health concerns or income restrictions, and thoughtful planning is required to address these issues. Older individuals may need to move from a larger residence of many years to a smaller apartment, prepare their estate, and later, empty their home. Often, it’s not just the individual considering the options; their children may help their parents make these lifestyle decisions as well.

At first glance, moving or disposing years of accumulated memories, family treasures, antiques, furniture, collections, and just “stuff” appears daunting and overwhelming. Legal professionals assisting a client may wrestle with recognizing what is of value amongst all the possessions, and a family or client may have questions such as: “What is valuable?” “Should we have a garage sale?” or “Is there a financial gain to a charitable donation?”

When looking for advice on getting the most return in dollars for a client or family, a professional appraiser can offer answers to these questions and guidance.

“Why do I need an appraiser?”
Personal property appraisers can be found as independent practitioners, in group practices, or at auction houses. Appraisal departments from auction houses often have specialists on staff who are excellent resources for identifying and valuing a variety of property. Moreover, auction house appraisers are regularly exposed to the current market by the cyclical auction schedule, making this type of professional appraiser an ideal choice.

Before an appraiser is engaged, specific information should be obtained such as years of experience, specialization, formal training, fees, expected date of appraisal completion, and the number of appraisal document copies needed. It is also recommended to inquire if the appraiser has completed the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) course.

A Higher Standard
USPAP standards were put forth by the Appraisal Foundation to establish ethical practice standards in appraisal preparation and the IRS recognizes USPAP standards for appraisals submitted to them such as estate and charitable gift appraisals.

Engaging an appraiser who is USPAP compliant provides the client with a level of confidence and assurance in the completed appraisal.

Depending on the family needs, a formal appraisal that includes Fair Market Value (FMV) of the household contents may be completed or an informal walk-through may be done providing verbal auction estimates and indication of an item’s salability. One advantage to an appraisal document is that it provides the client with an objective third party opinion of value and establishes unbiased guidelines for equitable distribution among family members. Either process will reveal current market trends, indicate property for possible sale and in what market, answer questions of what is suitable for donation, and what should just be “trashed.”

Recently an appraiser was contacted regarding a painted blanket chest that had previously been stored in a barn. After examination and research, it was determined to be a rare painted blanket chest by Johannes Spitler (1774-1837) and sold at auction for $350,500. In another case, a Martha Walter painting was identified in an estate and sold at auction for $70,000. One particular client’s mother had many rings and the daughter was unaware of their value. After the appraisal was completed, she learned the value was $50,000. Unfortunately, not every appraisal garners success stories. The market for upright pianos and mid-late 20th century cut glass is poor.

Once value has been assigned, the next step is disposal.
Family members may take meaningful personal items and property may also be sold either through auction or private sales. Lastly, any remaining items may be donated or trashed. The appraiser will have resources to offer the client for sale, disposal, or “clean sweep services.”

For legal professionals with clients, or the children of clients, facing the issues of aging or the complexities of dispersing an estate’s personal property, engaging a USPAP compliant appraiser may be the solution for all the issues at hand. A professional appraiser will be able to address the question of value, find the best market for items, and provide the due diligence clients and their family members deserve and expect.