Answers to Common Questions and Situations

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The Valuation Game in Estates

Last month we did a Facebook post about the latest on the Michael Jackson estate – yes, it is still open. The crux was this: the IRS valued Michael Jackson’s image – an asset under California law – at a whopping $434 million. The estate valued it at . . . $2,105. The IRS is currently suing the estate.

The difference is staggering and, obviously, millions are at stake. The thing is, though, the estate, while trying to drive down the IRS’ valuation are, in fact, lowering the price anyone would be willing to pay to license the King of Pop’s likeness. Why would anyone pay big bucks to license Jackson’s image if the estate has just very publicly said it’s basically worthless? And, can the estate sell a license for anything beyond pennies without proving the IRS’ point?

Lastly, in trying to save tax dollars has the estate forever devalued Jackson’s image?

Valuations in probate are never as clear cut as they may seem . . . here’s some more about ‘regular’ assets.

You probably know what your house is worth at any given time. Your 401k, pension plan, bank accounts, are all easy to value, you can find them on-line in a matter of minutes. But what about personal items, especially items that we think might be valuable but are entirely dependent on the marketplace?

We’ve written about valuation before, it’s an important part of the probate process. Those articles have been about art or businesses or intellectual property, all items that can have an impact on the probate process. But, what about ‘regular stuff?’ Well, ‘regular stuff’ can be every bit as complicated as the big ticket items and not only from the viewpoint of what something is worth, but what the beneficiaries of an estate thinks they are worth.

Take, for example, baseball cards. In the late 1980’s through the mid-1990’s baseball cards were hot. They were the cool investment option, a generation of middle aged men blamed their mothers for tossing their collections when they shipped off to college, monthly guides to the ever changing value of cards were published, tag sales were ransacked. For the most part, it was all hype, except for a few notable exceptions like the famous Mickey Mantle Rookie Card, baseball cards were never that valuable because they were never that rare.

The problem, though, from a probate perspective, is that a lot of people never got that message ~ they still think most baseball cards have real value. Their expectations don’t match the reality of present day valuation.

The on-line magazine, Mental Floss recently published an article called 22 Things You Owned in the ‘90s That Are Worth a Fortune Today. It’s fun and really worth the read, especially if you were a kid in the ’90’s or if you had kids in the ’90’s.

Furbies, Pokemon Cards, G.I. Joes, Power Ranger Action Figures, Lego sets, Beanie Babies (yes, still), and more can, indeed, be worth ‘a fortune.’ When collections of any of these are part of an estate expectations for a high valuation are the norm ~ because of articles like this and word of mouth.

A close reading of the piece, though, tells a very different story. Qualifiers are everywhere – for those who chose to notice. ‘Still in Box’, ‘Sealed’, ‘Complete Set, ‘Mint Condition’, “Working Condition’, and more are noted on every listing. They are the difference between collector value and tag sale value.

An important distinction that can be lost in the expectations of potential heirs.

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About the author

Erik J. Broel
Founder & CEO

Erik founded the firm in 2009. He sees it as his personal mission to demystify the process of handling an estate or trust, and to help people by making the complex estate process simple and accessible. He believes there is always a better way to do things, and loves finding new and innovative ways to deliver better, more effective service that solves the client’s key problem or issue, and improves the client’s life.

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