RINKER ON COLLECTIBLES — Column #868 Copyright © Rinker Enterprises, Inc. 2003
Disposing of the Personal Property of a Parent, Relative, or Friend
Several times a month I receive a letter or e-mail that usually starts with a statement similar to this: “My husband and I moved his aunt from an apartment to a nursing home” or “My parents are going to be moving and my Mom comes from a family of antique appreciators/collectors.” The writers, most of whom have limited or no experience dealing with antiques and collectibles, want my advice on how to dispose of the personal property of a parent, relative, or friend.
Be careful what you ask for. Here it is.
The first thing to do is involve all the applicable family members. It can be messy. It will certainly require a great deal of diplomacy. Disposing of the personal property of a parent, relative, or friends is an emotional issue. I have seen it split a family apart. Everyone has his own opinion on how best to do it.
A decision has to be made about who is in charge. Once made, the remaining family members have to step aside and allow this person(s) to do the job. Second guessing serves no good purpose.
Family value is an emotional value, not a monetary value. While I believe it to be one of the most important, if not the most important, of the antiques and collectibles values, I am fully aware that collector and/or decorator value determine the actual financial worth of an object.
Seek professional help. This usually means an antiques and collectibles appraiser. When dealing with antiques and collectibles, a little knowledge in the hands of someone who does not understand the field is a very dangerous commodity. Once in place, false expectations are difficult to reverse.
The professional functions as a neutral party, one who advises, values, and, when occasion demands, arbitrates. You are his client. Your interests should be his interests.
Whenever possible, I recommend hiring an independent appraiser, i.e., one who makes his living as an appraiser. Many appraisers are also auctioneers and dealers. The good ones do not allow their business interests to interfere with their appraisal responsibilities. Alas, temptation often rears its ugly head.
Unless there is a tax/estate issue or a relative or two that simply will not be happy unless they see everything in writing, I recommend against a written appraisal. Written appraisals are time consuming and costly. What most individuals need is someone to review the personal property, determine what is and is not valuable, and discuss the dispersal options.
More than a decade ago, I started to offer a service called a “walk through appraisal.” I walk through a house, from the attic to the basement, looking at the objects and offering values as I go. Before starting the process, the client and I determine what values are needed—auction value if the material is to go to auction, market value if the goods are going to be distributed or sold to family and/or friends, or garage sale/tag sale value if the family is going to attempt to dispose of the objects itself. I encourage clients to make a cassette or video tape of my walk through so they can refer to it later. On more than one occasion, I have had clients who wrote the price on a Post-It Note and attached it to the specific object. At the conclusion of my walk through, I sit down with the client and discuss sale options.
Independent appraisers charge between $75.00 and $150.00 per hour for their services. I am not certain I would trust anyone charging less. A competent antiques and collectibles appraiser earns nearly the same hourly rate as a local accountant or attorney. Have you recently hired a plumber or electrician?
Once the independent appraiser has finished and before you decide which disposal method to use, it is time to involve the family one more time. When an object is sold, it is gone. If the buyer is not a family member, it is outside the family forever.
Most individuals in charge of disposing of the personal property of a parent, relative, or friend only involve the immediate generation, e.g., brothers and sisters. Grandchildren and cousins are frequently excluded. The theory is the fewer involved, the fewer the problems.
This is not always the best decision. Grandchildren, especially if they are above age five, have memories as do older cousins. Do not buy into the argument that they are too young to care. Ask them and allow them to help make the decision. Parents, no matter what they claim to the contrary, are generally not able to decide intelligently on behalf of their children and grandchildren when it comes to family material.
Distribution questions and issues do increase the greater the number of people involved. The most common problem is which generation governs the division. If a parent has two children but the first child has one child and the second three, do you divide by two or six? If six, who picks first—the two children followed by the grandchildren based on chronological age or is the order determined by lot?
In some instances, family members go around and put their name on things. Resolution is needed only on those pieces on which two or more names appear.
When determining a selection order proves impossible, the traditional approach is to utilize a family auction, i.e., a private auction attended only by family members. While this appears fair on the surface, it penalizes family members with limited income. I recommend this only as a last resort.
I also oppose the concept of forcing immediately family to compete at a public sale. Many often do not have the money to challenge bids from private collectors and others. I have no reservations about making friends compete at an auction or tag sale.
Alas, while distribution of family treasures to family members should not be about money, it usually is. I have served as a referee on more than one occasion. As each family member picks an item, I offer an appraisal. Sometimes they use the figures I provided during my walk through appraisal. When all the members of the family have selected what they want, the amount each has taken is totaled. These numbers are then averaged, with those above putting money into the pot to be distributed to those below average. The goal is to see that everyone gets the same amount of money, not necessarily the same amount of things.
Family first is my motto. The person responsible for disposing of the personal property of a parent, relative, or friend is well advised to dispose of the family first.
I was lucky. I was the only surviving heir of my mother. There were no problems. Not everyone is as fortunate.
However, I did have to deal with aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends who wanted a memento or claimed to have received a promise from my mother that he or she could have “x” when my mother died. I cared for my mother the last six months of her life. During that period, I asked her repeatedly what she had promised to others. When she died, I had her list. Trust me. It differed significantly from the list I prepared based on what I was told by the survivors. I think I handled the situation graciously. Unless the object was something I wanted, I merely said “what the hey” and gave it away. It should not always be about the money.
If you know that you are going to be responsible for disposing of the personal property of a parent, relative, or friend, ask them to prepare a list of what they would like to go to whom. Also ask if they have a preference as to how the balance of their property should be dispersed. In as much as you can, honor these wishes.
Here’s a good rule to remember. Family means immediate family—children and grandchildren. Be careful about including aunts, uncles, and cousins unless you are willing to open the door for everyone. How do you determine which friends to include and which to exclude? Save yourself the trouble. Friends are not family. Their interests come later.
Once family considerations are met, it is time to consider the disposal recommendations of the independent appraiser. You may wish to consult with him a second time. Based upon what the family has taken, the appraiser’s recommended sale options may change.
I have dealt
with the “where can I sell my objects for the best price” question in a
previous Rinker on Collectibles column entitled “Where Can I Sell It.”
You will find it, along with this column, on my website, www.harryrinker.com,
by clicking on “Harry’s Recent Columns” and then clicking on the appropriate
column in the “Special” section.
Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out www.harryrinker.com.
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