Planning for Collections

Attorney Christine S. Anderson

June 2013

Handling the disposition of a decedent's collection can be challenging. The beneficiary designated to receive the collection may not recognize its value. The charitable organization which was chosen to receive the collection may not be able to accept it. Unable to find a dealer to assist with selling a collection, a fiduciary may not get the best value for a collection in an estate. Whether the collection is bequeathed, donated or sold, careful planning during life will pay off after death.

It is fascinating for us, as planners, to learn about the collections of our clients, which vary from stamps, to art glass, to oil paintings, to antique cars. Some clients will have a family member or friend who appreciates and enjoys the collection. That person may be the natural recipient for a bequest of the collection. Besides directing that your collection is to go to the person who will most appreciate it, we recommend that clients consider preparing a history of the collection. The recipient will most likely be delighted to learn the details about each item in the collection and how it was acquired as well as its unique value. The history of the collection can greatly enhance the recipient's enjoyment of the collection.

Museums or historical associations can be the most logical recipient for certain collections, if no family member or friend shares a passion for the items. It is advisable to contact the museum or organization to which the client is considering bequeathing the collection in advance in order to make sure that the organization has an interest in the collection. If the organization does have an interest in the collection, then connecting the collector with the future recipient while the collector is alive can be beneficial. Often the curator of a museum will visit the collector and view the collection, learning invaluable information that can only be obtained through a face-to-face meeting with the collector.

If there is no obvious individual to receive the collection, and a donation of the collection is not desirable, then a collector should investigate how the collection would be sold. Even if the collector chooses not to sell the collection during his or her lifetime, the collector can learn who would be the best purchaser of the collection or auctioneer of the collection and what information is necessary in order to maximize the benefit to the estate at the time of sale. Some of the requisite information may only be available from the collector himself or herself.

The Dechomai Foundation assists charitable organizations with receiving non-cash gifts. For some individuals, this can be an invaluable service. A collector can transfer a collection to the Dechomai Foundation with the understanding that the collection will be sold and the net proceeds will be distributed to a specified charitable organization. For more information, you can visit the website at

If you have a collection and have not considered what will become of it after your death, we hope that this article gives you some helpful ideas. Planning for the future of your collection can be an enjoyable, albeit less publicized, part of the collecting experience.