3 Estate Planning Options for a Valuable Collection (From Art to Baseball Cards)

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Lauren Pitman

Attorney, Founder

Whether it’s something classic, like art, stamps or baseball cards, or something totally unique, like bread tabs, a collection is a personal representation of what you loved (or obsessed over) in life.

It’s part of your legacy.

It’s also part of your estate plan.

When you’re planning for a large collection, consider whether you want the collection to be sold, donated, or kept in your family. If you want to donate your collection to an institution, make sure it’s the right one.

Selling your collection

If you have a valuable collection that can benefit your heirs, you may create a plan to sell your collection after your death. You do not want a case where you have passed away, and there is an auction to sell your items at a low price. 

Instead, create a game plan for your collection so your personal representative or trustee can execute your plan easily and generate income for your estate or your heirs.

This could include discussing the sale of your collection in advance to potential buyers, making it clear which platforms will garner the most money, and what prices you expect to receive for certain items. You could stipulate if you expect it to be sold all at once or in pieces.

Still, some people have spent many years bringing together a collection they love, and they do not wish to sell it. There are other options for those who are concerned about keeping the collection close.

Keep it in the family

Sometimes, it’s obvious who is most interested in your collection and would be the right person to continue to grow it. If there’s someone—a family member or another person you know well—who loves your collection, and you want them to inherit it, you can make this clear in your estate plan.

Talk openly with this person about your intention: what would you like them to do with your collection? How would you expect it to be preserved and cared for? This kind of personal discussion is one of the best ways to make your intentions clear. It also gives you an opportunity to teach about the care of your collection and how to manage it.

The other way is to create an estate plan that clearly outlines your wishes for your collection. Some of these clauses might include what pieces may or may not be sold, how long you expect the person to keep the collection, and where they might donate the collection if they do not have an heir of their own.

Donate to an institution

There are plenty of worthwhile historical institutions that may be interested in your collection, especially if it is significant in scope and value. A donation could be valuable to you as part of your legacy; it can be a way to be remembered.

When choosing an institution, however, you don’t simply want to pick the most prestigious museum. Sure, you could donate your collection to the Smithsonian, but even if it is accepted, it will rarely get displayed, and it might live in their archives, inaccessible, forever.

Depending on your values, it might be worthwhile to donate to a more local institution, perhaps one that will really appreciate what you have and be able to display it for others to enjoy. If it is appreciated, it will be cared for. Your legacy might have a greater impact.

Reach out to local organizations, museums, historical societies, or other institutions that might fit your collection and speak directly to the curators about your collection. They might be honest with you, if something is not a good fit.

For example, if you have an extraordinary collection of antique Shakespeare volumes, the local library might not be the right place to donate. They focus on books that can be circulated and might not have the funding to properly store the books. But they could direct you to the right place and to another curator who can help.

If you have taken the time to develop a collection, it is likely important to you. You don’t want the collection to fall into the wrong hands or to be sold away in pieces if that’s not what matters most to you.

With an estate plan, you have the opportunity to clearly express your wishes and to define limitations. It’s your best chance to preserve the legacy you’ve created.

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Disclaimer: The information contained in this article should not be considered tax or legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently and the information in this article may not reflect your own state's laws or the most recent changes in state or federal law. For current tax and legal advice, please consult with an accountant or attorney licensed to practice in your state.
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