A few years after her death in 2014, Joan Rivers’ family put hundreds of her personal items up for auction at Christie’s in New York. As The Financial Times reported in “Why an art collector’s estate needs tight planning,” a silver Tiffany bowl engraved with her dog’s name, Spike, made headlines when it sold for thirty times its estimated price.
This shows how an auction house can generate a buzz around the estate of a late collector, creating demand for items that, had they been sold separately, might have failed to attract as much attention.
A problem for some art and collectible owners is that their heirs may feel much less passionately about the works than the person who collected them.
A collector can either gift, donate or sell in their lifetime. He or she can also wait until they pass away and then gift, donate, or sell posthumously.
The way a collector can make certain his or her wishes are carried out or eliminate family conflicts after their death is to take the decision out of the hands of the family by placing an art collection in trust.
The trust will have the collector’s wishes added into the agreement and the trustees are appointed from the family and from independent advisers with no interest in a transaction taking place.
Many collectors like to seal their legacy by making a permanent loan or gift of art works to a museum. However, their children can renege on these agreements if they’re not adequately protected by trusts or other legal safeguards after a collector’s death.
Even with a trust or other legal structure put in place to preserve a legacy, the key to avoiding a fight over a valuable collection after the death of the collector is to have frank discussions about estate planning with the family well before the reading of the will. This can ensure that their wishes are respected.
Reference: Financial Times (June 20, 2019) “Why an art collector’s estate needs tight planning”