Managing a Loved One’s Estate? There’s a Crucial Step That’s Often Overlooked

 This article originally appeared in Sutton Place Social.

by Sonya Weisshappel


Objects tell stories. An estate can tell an entire life’s story—and reveal much about a person’s inner world. How do we honor that piece of them while also making practical financial decisions? How can we tie up loose ends and still take the time to reminisce and grieve properly? 

Within a house or apartment, there are three main categories of items that should be sorted and reviewed by family members: paperwork, photographs, and, of course, tangible objects. A good estate attorney will help you sort through and create a plan for insurance policies, investments, and basic bills. But not their objects, those precious stories.  

The value of a photograph cannot be measured by a dollar amount. The emotional or sentimental value of an object, however, may vary depending on how much it is “worth.”  

Remember that replacement cost is not the same thing as a fair market price; moreover, the purchase price rarely indicates how much an item is worth. For example, if a painting was purchased from a gallery for $10,000.00—and has been insured as such for decades—how can you be certain of what it will fetch from a buyer or at auction? A painting’s style and period may go in and out of fashion from decade to decade. So, too, do other decorative items such as hand-woven carpets or chandeliers. 

There’s only one way to determine an object’s value: Hire an appraiser. Fine art, jewelry, or vintage cars may seem like obvious candidates for an appraiser. But what about musical instruments, comic books, baseball cards, stamps, perhaps even wine—all may require an expert’s opinion. People’s tastes and passions differ; figuring out the value of a loved one’s belongings is part of honoring their life’s story. If an appraisal already exists, make sure it’s up-to-date. 

In today’s there’s-an-app-for-that culture, we sometimes think we can figure these things out for ourselves. Search engines don’t always have the right answers. No matter where you’re at in the process, you should contact the Appraisers Association of America and start with a generalist appraiser. 

You can share an appraisal with trusted advisors such as estate attorneys, insurance brokers, or CPAs, and it will help you decide what to sell, keep, or give to a donation facility. It’s also plays an essential role in creating a digital inventory before you move or renovate.  

Haas Regen