Trash or Treasure – Valuing Personal Property

My son has got me hooked on watching a show called “Strange Inheritance.”  Each episode examines a family and some strange, unusual, or unique item that has been inherited.  In one episode, a person who inherited a house found the headstone of Lee Harvey Oswald in the home.  His parents had purchased the home from Oswald’s mother. There are some really crazy things that people inherit.  Some have significant monetary value, others just sentimental value.  As the trustee of a trust or the personal representative (executor) of an estate, just what do you do with these assets?

In the first instance, there is a duty to inventory and appraise the assets of the estate.  What in the world would Oswald’s headstone be worth?  All too often, when it comes to personal effects the duty to appraise is ignored.  Beware when making this decision.  There may be hidden treasures in Grandmother’s attic.  Hiring a professional estate appraiser will allow you to determine if you should treasure that weird item or just toss it.

I love shows like Strange Inheritance or Antiques Roadshow, but you never want to be on the wrong side of that exciting find.  Another episode of Strange Inheritance recounted the story of George E. Pickett V, the great-great-grandson of Civil War General George Pickett.  Pickett V sold Civil War memorabilia that ultimately ended up in a Civil War museum for a fraction of its actual value.  The transaction sparked expensive civil litigation and criminal cases.  Without excusing the wrongdoing of the other party, Pickett V could have saved himself a lot of heartache had he obtained an appraisal from a qualified and disinterested appraiser prior to selling the heirlooms.

So when you’re going through the personal effects of a departed relative, don’t neglect to involve a qualified appraiser to help in determining whether you have a hidden treasure.

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