Not Till Death, Debt, Divorce do we part

Not Till Death, Debt, Divorce Do We Part

In the world of collecting there are what’s known as the three D’s any one of which rings a death knell for a collection and on occasion the collector.

Divorce, Debt and Death

Divorce: In the event of divorce unless otherwise stipulated in a prenuptial agreement the collection would be divided equally between the two parties. This may be accomplished through an appraisal, which determines the dollar value of the entire collection.  The collection may then be split equally in order that each party receives its fair share. It is more likely that upon appraisal the collection would be sold and the proceeds from the sale then split equally between the divorcing couple. No doubt, this would be accomplished with no rancor or animosity and with the assistance of fine legal advice. Yeah, right.

Debt: In the unfortunate case of debt being the reason to part with a collection the solution is very simple but no doubt very painful emotionally as well as financially. The collection would be appraised, sold and the proceeds of sale used to pay off the debts. There is no room for emotion or sentiment, just pay off the debts.

InMemoriamDeath: The death of a collection is obviously as a result of the death of the collector. This in itself is very sad.  Whether it is as a result of a lengthy, happy life or an unexpected demise, the loss of a loved one is painful. There is so much to think of and to do upon the death of a loved one and all the while dealing with the grief and loss that comes with death. Arrangements must be made, documents filed, friends and family advised and once that is dealt with comes handling the affairs of the deceased. Hopefully the former collector has not died intestate.  If this is the case there is a whole lot more stress, anxiety and frustration for those deemed responsible for dealing with the estate. The common practice would be for the closest surviving relatives to hire a lawyer to sort out who gets what regardless of who they were and what their relationship may have been with the deceased. This is truly an unfortunate and totally unnecessary end to a life, and an estate, invariably resulting with a great deal of hurt and anger amongst the friends and the family. This can be easily be avoided by the writing of a last will and testament. For the sake of a few hundred dollars, a little time, thought and consideration would ensure that loved ones receive the appropriate bequests and that those less that loved, do not receive what they think they deserve, and the estate including collections be sold and or distributed in a fair and equitable fashion.Last_will

It is more often the rule than the exception beneficiaries of an estate will not share the same passion and affection for the departed’s collection and will decide to sell off the collection as a whole and then split the proceeds of the sale. They may also take the portion of the collection bequeathed to them and sell it independently of the other beneficiaries and keep the proceeds. In spite of what is stated in the last will and testament, the collection is treated as an entire entity and split equally amongst the beneficiaries regardless of the emotional or monetary value of any one piece.

It is imperative the collector ensure that if there are any items in their collection they wish donated or gifted to a library, museum or university or even to a special individual it MUST be stated in the last will and testament in order to guarantee the desired disbursement.

We all hope that ours will not be one of ‘those families’ that squabbles over the items in our estate, but when emotions are running high as they are during the stressful period of grieving, sadly the best friend and sister who wants the beautiful leather bound first edition becomes ‘a selfish, opportunistic witch who never did a damn thing to help when dear old Dad was dying and certainly never cared a whit about his collection until she found out it was worth something, but it happens.

A common phenomen with the death of a family member and collector is how certain items become ‘valuable’ to the point of being priceless and other are virtually ignored. Invariably this is a result of the emotional attachment to an item because of its perceived value to the deceased and has very little or nothing to do with actual monetary value. There is nothing wrong with this until it comes time to place an actual value on the item possibly for insurance purposes and it is discovered that the item is in effect without any monetary value whatsoever. DeathThen the arguments begin, “My mother had this piece in her collection for over thirty years!” “I cannot remember a time when this didn’t sit in a prominent place in our home so that Mom could see it everyday because it is so valuable.” Absolutely, there is no doubt the item was valuable to dear Mother because she liked it not because of how much it cost or how much she thought she could get for it, she liked it because it was pretty or it was gifted to her or because it went with the drapes. It doesn’t matter why it was valuable to her but it doesn’t make it ‘valuable’.

Professional Appraiser: I feel it is incumbent on a collector to acquire the services of a professional appraiser. Let’s face it we are all going to die, of that we can all be sure. Obtaining an appraisal by a professional appraiser following USPAP guidelines regardless of the reason or cause for the divesting of the collection, ensures a proper value of the collection be determined.  Whether it is for the purpose of ‘joint custody’ in a divorce settlement, or to avoid a stint in  ‘debtor’s prison’ or workhouse paying off debts, a professional appraisal will make these circumstances a little less stressful.  Should we not make our passing as uncomplicated and as stress free for our families and friends as we are able? There are those who will say, ‘Eh, they are only things, just stuff’, and for many that may very well be the case but there are many, many more that will look at that first edition Dad loved to read or the beautifully framed map that hung in Uncle Joe’s den, or Nana’s diamond ring, or that silly little china rabbit that Mom liked so much to whom having that thing or stuff will evoke emotions and a flood of wonderful memories.

Collectors spend a vast number of hours in studying, researching and acquiring their treasures to say nothing of the money spent and all for sheer enjoyment. The collections are cared for and safeguarded in life and so it should after death. Unless the collector makes arrangements for the disposal and division of their treasured collections, it will be accomplished in a cold manner devoid of emotion with a calculated intent to obtain the highest income from sale with perhaps the least amount of effort. Simply, the collection is reduced to ‘things or stuff’.


Article written by Julia McLaren The Lord Durham Report editor ( and reviewed by Duncan McLaren (

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