The Executor Adviser from Executor.org

The Executor Adviser is an advice column created by Executor.org for Legacy. Executor.org's experts aim to help readers with questions about executorship and provide comprehensive, free online resources to guide executors through this complex process.

Part of your job as executor is not only making sure all estate assets are distributed, but also that they are distributed fairly. As a result, an important part of being an executor will be valuing the deceased’s remaining assets. This sounds simple enough but is an old clock a worthless relic or a valuable antique, and how will you know?


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Fortunately, you are not expected to do this valuation yourself. In fact, you can and should look to specialized professionals to handle needed appraisals. If, in the course of looking through important documents, you find information relating to the value of particular items in the estate, they can help you determine what to have appraised and can be helpful to the professional you hire. You should always share that with the appropriate appraiser but be sure to also keep a copy for yourself.

So what items should you have appraised? Our experts here at Executor.org recommend having the following assets valued by a appraiser:

The home and any land/property. When selling a home as an executor, it is an excellent idea to have the home appraised by one or two appraisers. Whether the home will be sold or stay within the family, you’ll need to understand fair market value for the home and an appraisal (or two) will help you do so. Appraisers will do a market study to determine what similar homes with similar characteristics have recently sold for in the area, giving you more confidence when it comes to setting the asking price. Getting an appraisal on such a significant asset can also prevent issues later. For example, say one of the beneficiaries comes back after the sale of the home and has concerns that the home was sold for too little. As executor, you’ll be able to show you did your due diligence in having an expert, third party handle the appraisal.

Jewelry. We’ve all likely heard of someone who thought they had a valuable diamond ring or perfect gemstone but later were surprised to learn the piece was a knock-off or worth far less than they imagined. When it comes time to appraise any jewelry, as executor you should hire a trusted professional jeweler. The jeweler will be able to identify not only the type of gem or metal but also the condition and age, which all contribute to the value. Ideally, you’ll want to be there for the appraisal and not leave diamonds or other assets with a stranger. But at a minimum you’ll want to photograph all jewelry if you are going to leave it with an appraiser. Of course, when deciding the value of some pieces of jewelry, remember that while the cash value of a ring, necklace, or pair of cufflinks might be low, the sentimental value can be high. Don’t be surprised when it comes time to distribute assets such as jewelry that items of smaller monetary value are just as desirable to beneficiaries as ones with a greater monetary value.

Antiques and other collectibles (art, stamps, coins, etc.). For antiques, coins, stamps and related collectibles, you’ll want to find specific experts to give you accurate appraisals. Keep in mind that the market for once-popular collectibles is declining as more minimalist trends spread, so some collectibles might actually be worth less now than before. It’s also important to consider that while something might be valued at a certain price, ultimately there’s no guarantee you will find a buyer willing to pay that price. A reputable appraiser should be able to give you a realistic idea of value and they should also be able to recommend the best way to connect with other collectors who are willing to pay a fair price. Many antique and collectibles appraisers also are buyers and, unfortunately, all are not reputable. If an appraiser offers to buy an item after appraising it, you should consider getting another appraisal before agreeing to the sale. This way you’ll know they aren’t taking advantage of you by paying you less than the item is truly worth.

Everything else. OK, this one is a little imprecise, I admit. But in most cases, especially if the deceased had an average-sized home, there will be lots of odds-and-ends that remain. For example, semi-broken tools, incomplete sets of dishes, a storage closet full on light bulbs, trash bags and paper towels. While none of these items are terribly valuable, there are people who travel around to estate auctions to scoop up these random finds others might call trash. An easy way to unload these items is to contact an firm who does estate sales or auctions and have them come and take a look at what remains. They can give you an ballpark idea of the value of everything and, for a fee, they will typically also handle setting up an estate sale, advertising it, and handling sales, if you’d like them to. This not only generates money for the estate, but also spares the estate the cost of paying someone to haul away unwanted items to the local landfill.

For example, in many cities a service called Everything But the House will list items for sale online, allowing you to get the best price that a broad group of bidders are willing to pay. They’ll charge a commission for the service but will come in and photograph and list every item and completely manage the sale, so it’s a great solution in many cases.

Going through the process of having items appraised might seem like a tedious step in an already long process. But having items appraised is an important part of the executor role and one that better ensures assets are distributed fairly.

Have a question about executorship? Get an answer by sending an email to [email protected].


About the Author: Patrick O'Brien is CEO and co-founder of Executor.org, a free, comprehensive online resource that helps executors manage their responsibilities and duties in this complex role. The free tools include a helpful step-by-step interactive guide for executors and invaluable tips on everything from planning a funeral and keeping beneficiaries happy to dealing with grief and managing estate assets.


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