Avoid Heartache and Headaches: Hire an Appraiser

The small items that fill homes can become powerful objects of animosity. Disputes over artwork, antiques and collectibles during a divorce or estate division can be devastating. The emotional significance can cloud judgment when assigning value, and a rush to appraisal can lead to inaccurate valuations. It’s easy to advise families to have their tangible personal property appraised, but in reality these types of tasks tend to fall to the bottom of the list until it is too late. 

Consulting an appraiser early in an estate settlement or divorce can avoid both heartache and headaches. Usually, an appraiser’s quick tour of a property, combined with a conversation reveals where special attention is required to avoid contention. An appraiser will pay attention to mentions of objects that fall into one of two categories: 

  1. Venerated objects: These are items with which the owner has an intimate connection; objects that were used, touched or worn regularly – think “on their person” – but not so personalized that they couldn’t be enjoyed by the ex-spouse, family member, or friend. In the case of an estate, venerated objects are described as iconic of the deceased. Furniture and jewelry are the most frequently venerated objects.  Appraisers will listen for statements like, “She and I would sit at this table and talk for hours.” “That was his chair.” “He wore those cufflinks to the office everyday for 40 years.” As for jewelry, the pieces we find to be most often venerated are associated with a rite of passage: marriage, anniversary, birth, or accomplishment. 
  2. Objects with rumored values: Often, the owner of an item or collection has told stories that the object is “valuable,” “irreplaceable,” or “one-of-a-kind.” Misinformed beneficiaries begin to picture their father’s shelves of TootsieToys as an investment fund, and estate settlement becomes the time they expect to cash in. Rumored values drive divorcees and beneficiaries to pursue a do-it-yourself valuations to justify the dollar amount they have in mind. They turn to the Internet: eBay and other unreliable sources for asking prices to support their theories. Finding supporting information is critical to contextualize price data and to understand the reliability of its source, exactly what appraisers are trained to do. 

When valuable specialty property is at stake or beneficiaries might become contentious, it is best to protect the property with a detailed, decipherable and uniform account that adequately describes each object. Hiring a qualified appraisers can be essential in protecting family harmony and goodwill during stressful times of transition. An appraisal report is an indispensable tool for providing an impartial, unbiased and justified valuation of an object(s) on which family members can agree.