Estate Planning for Your Valuable Collections

Collections of memorabilia, no matter what they are, are often important to their owners and sometimes very valuable. Whether it is paintings, classic cars, antiques, coins, stamps, sports memorabilia, rugs, books, or rare manuscripts, people collect items for a variety of reasons. These often include a passion or expression of their personalities, an expected return on investment, or even social reasons. Whatever the motivation, it’s important to plan in advance so your beneficiaries know what to do with these items, what they are worth, and what you want done with them when you are no longer around to cherish them yourself. 

Man Leaves Behind a Collection of $20 Million Worth of Baseball Cards 

Dr. Thomas Newman died in January of 2021 at the age of 73, following complications from COVID-19. He spent the last 40 years of his life collecting baseball cards and sports memorabilia with some items dating back to the 1880s. Now, his collection, which is valued at $20 million, is going up for auction. 

Dr. Newman was a neurologist who was still practicing in his hometown of Tampa, Florida, until he got sick, and he truly had a lifelong passion for his collection. Now, Dr. Newman’s collection features some of the most iconic cards, including a 1933 Babe Ruth card that auctioneers believe could break the $5.2 million world record for a single sports card! 

“No one enjoyed collecting more than Tom,” said his widow, Nancy Newman. “He jokingly called his cards his ‘paper babies,’ and spent almost every day attending to his collection in one way or another. It gave him such pleasure. The only reason he would ever sell a card was if he had acquired the same card in a higher grade.” 

The collection has been authenticated and graded by the world’s largest sports collectibles certification company, Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA). An auction house in California is handling Newman’s estate collection, which has over 1,000 vintage and modern trading cards and other sports memorabilia, including a baseball signed by Babe Ruth, a 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card, which is expected to sell for more than $1 million; cards of Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, Honus Wagner, and Ted Williams; and World Series program books dating back to 1903. 

Newman amassed such a large collection that when the auctioneers went to Florida to pick it up, the collection filled an 18-foot U-Haul truck. The doctor even stored boxes at his medical office that were filled with unopened packages of cards dating back to the 1980s. 

As you can see from Dr. Newman’s example, a well-maintained and curated collection of memorabilia could be worth a substantial amount of money, and/or have sentimental importance. Dr. Newman was very detailed in how he wished for his family to handle his collection, which I’m sure was very helpful for them. Will your family know what to do with an important collection you may have when you are no longer around? 

Estate Planning for Collections 

It’s wise for collectors to take an active role in the planning for their memorabilia. This is especially true when no one else in the family has an interest in the collection. A recent article in Kiplinger describes another collector of sports memorabilia and what he did to plan for his collection. His tips are as follows:  

  • Take an inventory of the collection: It’s important to know what you have and to document it. A thorough inventory that is up-to-date will help your beneficiaries understand the scale of the collection and where the items are located. This could be as simple as a list on an Excel spreadsheet! 
  • Make sure that the inventory remains up-to-date and contains detailed information about the items, such as if the item is autographed or in the case of a piece of sports equipment, used. 
  • Log values of items along with the items’ description. Look at comparable items that sell at auction and follow industry publications to keep values as current as possible. Some items see their values fluctuate more than others, but it’s always helpful to have a ballpark idea of the value of each item and the total value of the collection. At some point, collectors should consider engaging an appraiser to give a formal valuation of the collection while the collector is still alive. 
  • Include any authentication paperwork. Many items need supporting paperwork to verify they’re legitimate. Some items may have a certificate of authenticity, but others may need to be independently authenticated by an accredited expert.  
  • Where are the items located? As you plan for your beneficiaries to handle the sale of your items, they’ll need to know where they are located. So, as you’re walking your spouse or children through your inventory system as described in step one, point out where the items can be found and where their certificates of authenticity or any other documentation is located.  
  • Where do they go to sell the items? Make connections with auction houses that would be interested in bringing your collection up for sale. If your collection is highly specialized and you want to make sure your loved ones don’t get “ripped off,” you’ll be saving your beneficiaries a big headache if you give them information about where they will get a fair price. 

Hopefully, these steps and making your wishes known in estate planning documents will make things easier for family members if something happens to you.  

Please note: If you are a collector of art, in particular, the American Bar Association has an excellent article about planning for art. Click here to learn more.  

What if a Collection Has Sentimental Meaning? 

For many collectors, their passion is focused on the past and may be attached to certain memories and be very sentimental to them. Whether it is your mom’s Murano glass from her trips to Venice or the watches your father holds so dear, collections often carry lots of nostalgia. In addition to completing the steps above to plan for a collection that is valuable, perhaps you can go through your things with a friend or loved one, and talk about them and the memories they conjure up.  

The Legacy Stories app provides an excellent platform to take pictures to tell some of the stories associated with your collectibles. In connection with creating your Revocable Living Trust and other Estate Planning documents, the Farr Law Firm can help you leave your loved ones with your own Legacy Story. Click here to create your own Legacy Story at no charge. 

Estate Planning Helps Make Your Wishes Known and Makes Things Easier for Loved Ones 

Estate planning is all about what you leave behind to your children, grandchildren, or other intended beneficiaries upon your death. It includes tangible items of value and importance, such as your collections, as well as what is left in your retirement accounts, savings, real estate, life insurance policies, and more. 

If you die without proper estate planning, it is likely to create an extremely burdensome headache for those left behind and needlessly waste a significant portion of your assets on taxes, attorney’s fees, and probate expenses. This is why it is important to have an experienced estate planning attorney, such as those at the Farr Law Firm, create your estate plan — your will, trust, account titlings, and beneficiary designations. It is also important to review your estate plan at least every three to five years to make sure it continues to reflect your wishes. We also recommend that our clients participate in our firm’s Lifetime Protection Plan® to ensure that your documents are up-to-date each year when changes in the law occur. Learn more about it here. 

If you have not done your Estate Planning or Retirement Planning or had your planning documents reviewed this year, please call us for an initial consultation: 

Northern Virginia Estate Planning: 703-691-1888  
Fredericksburg, VA Estate Planning: 540-479-1435  
Rockville, MD Estate Planning: 301-519-8041  
Annapolis, MD Estate Planning: 410-216-0703  
Washington, DC Estate Planning: 202-587-2797 

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.