When a loved friend or relative dies and has named you executor or executrix of the estate, bereavement is coupled with the responsibility of sorting out and distributing a lifetime's accumulation of property to the heirs. Once you've gotten past the time of grief, it will be necessary to face the task of carrying out the deceased's wishes.
Of course, the first step in a complex settlement is to consult an attorney who will guide you in following the wishes laid out in the will, which usually gives directions on the distribution of real estate, cash and securities.
The real problems begin when you start to divide up jewelry, clothing, dishes, furniture and assorted household items that may not be specifically mentioned in the will.
(Note: Most estate consultants recommend that people with valuable art objects and collections include directions for their distribution and sale in their wills.)
After relatives have divided up and taken what they want to keep and you have given mementos--or even things of significant value--to friends and neighbors of the deceased, your first impulse might be to call your favorite charity or thrift shop to take away the unwanted items. This might be just the kind of thing that the deceased would want.
On the other hand, this might be a serious mistake if you are concerned about the monetary value of these pieces or have a need for funds to handle burial expenses.
Soaring prices for collectibles and antiques may make it worth your while to take a second look into Aunt Mabel's cupboards and closets. Collectors exist for almost every imaginable item.
Ralph Blunt, owner of Consignment Corner Antiques in the Silverlake district, has done many estate appraisals. He says: "It's best before you start throwing away to get a professional opinion."
Evalene Pulati, an appraiser from Orange County, agrees that it's good to have an appraisal. "Don't dump anything until you know what it's worth," she counsels.
An appraisal is also required if you plan to take a deduction of any consequence for items you want to donate to charities. The IRS will want to know the fair-market value of the items you donate. Your tax consultant will be able to give you more advice in this area.
Blunt says: "Choosing an appraiser can have pitfalls." He warns that some dealers will make a low appraisal because they want to buy everything for a low price. If the estate does not appear to have a large number of antiques or paintings, a general appraisal may be all you need.
Pulati explains that some appraisers will give a general appraisal of the contents of a house for about $25 an hour, if lengthy documentation is not required. She says a typical house can be looked at in three or four hours. Such an appraiser can help you earmark items that may have special value, such as fine art, Oriental objects, dolls, coins, stamps and jewelry. These should be appraised by a specialist with the expertise to determine current market value.
Deliver to Appraiser
You can save money in appraisal fees if you take these special items to the appraiser rather than having him or her come to you, because many will charge travel time.
The general appraiser can also give you an idea of how to dispose of unwanted items, tell you which objects to sell at auction, which to sell to antique dealers and which to sell at a house sale.
Items of special interest may bring a higher price at auction, because they will reach a larger audience of buyers with specialized interests. Many auction houses will give you a pre-sale estimate of what the item might bring if you send them a color photograph of the object. They will also advise you about their commissions and whether you can set a reserve price below which the item will not be sold.
Another alternative is to sell special items outright to a dealer or to place them in a consignment shop. Sometimes a dealer will buy an entire estate just to get a few valuable items, but the price offered will reflect the fact that the dealer has to give away or sell at a reduced price the unwanted items.
Also, because a dealer has to figure overhead into the price he asks for an object, you should probably expect to be offered 50% or less of what the item might be listed for in an antique price guide.
You may receive more money selling through a consignment shop, which will keep your object for a specified time, giving you 65% to 70% of the sale price. Try to find a shop that specializes in consignment so your items are not competing with similar objects that the dealer is trying to sell from his or her own stock. Also ask what the policy of the shop is regarding loss, theft or breakage.
As dealers also specialize in the type of collectibles they sell, you will make more if you seek out a shop that carries items similar to the ones you want to sell. If you place items in more than one shop, you will need records to keep track of them.