What art collectors should know about estate planning

On behalf of Sachin Dwivedi
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Adequate estate planning is something that all Wisconsin individuals should have in mind, particularly those who have acquired significant wealth in their lifetimes. Scandalous estate litigation cases commonly reported by tabloid publications invariably involve celebrities from the world of entertainment and professional sports, but art collectors can be easily added to this list even though gossip magazines do not usually focus on them.

Similar to passionate artists, art collectors often become so deeply involved with their life calling that they forget to address what will happen with their extensive collections after they pass away. When this happens, claims against the estate rapidly materialize along with demands from creditors and frivolous lawsuits from dubious plaintiffs as well as bickering relatives. An example of this situation occurred to the late American painter Robert Rauschenberg, whose vast estate encompasses both created and collected artworks. Although Rauschenberg had established a revocable trust that included a business succession planning strategy for his foundation, his questionable choice of trustees eventually became a courtroom nightmare.

Artwork can be a very valuable asset, and this means potential tax implications as well as probate issues. Moreover, this type of asset presents other complexities, such as provenance, certificates of ownership, insurance and potential claims by government agencies that oversee the preservation of the cultural record. Procrastination can be an art collector’s worst enemy when it comes to estate planning, and it often happens when individuals are engrossed in looking after their collections instead of preparing for the inevitable.

Artists and collectors alike have a lot to lose when it comes to poor estate planning. Probate avoidance is a must for individuals who own valuable pieces that may continue to appreciate in value over many centuries. There are various strategies that can be applied to protect the estates of art collectors, but they must be formulated sooner than later.