Estate planning for valuable art (Part One); Lessons Brooke Astor could have used.

According to many who knew her, noted heiress and philanthropist Brooke Astor had a favorite painting, a Frederick Childe Hassam work known as “Flags, Fifth Avenue.” This American impressionist painting hung in a prominent place in her apartment since the early 1970s. Her son, Anthony Marshall, sold the painting while she was alive (and not competent) for $10 million and paid himself a $2 million commission. A short time after the sale, the dealer resold the painting for $20 million.

For many individuals and families, what to do and whom to trust with art is a thorny issue. It is important to consider the legacy of the work itself. Understanding the choices of who should receive it, who can afford to pay any estate taxes on it, who can afford to maintain it, who will use it, and who will appreciate it is an important part of the planning process. For many families these are not simple decisions. The right solution lies at the intersection of many complex and sometimes competing considerations.

Valuing art is an inexact science. No one can ever be sure what the market will bear. A first step to understanding the value is to get a qualified appraisal and valuation. The appraiser should be a member of either the American Society of Appraisers, the Appraisers Association of America, or the International Society of Appraisers.

It is important that the client understands the impact of taxation on the art in his or her estate (editor’s note: for more on this topic also see this Journal of Accountancy article.) For estate tax purposes, the gross estate of a U.S. citizen or resident at the time of his or her death, includes “the value of all property, real or personal, tangible or intangible, wherever situated” owned by the decedent at the time of his or her death (Sec. 2031(a)).

The IRS has established an Art Advisory Panel whose task is to assist the Service in reviewing and evaluating appraisals of artwork in conjunction with federal income, gift, and estate tax returns. (IRS Internal Revenue Manual, §42(16)4). The panel consists of 25 art experts. If a tax return containing art with a claimed value of at least $20,000 is selected for audit, the case must be referred to the panel. If the artwork exceeds $50,000, Rev. Proc. 96-15 (modified by Announcement 2001-22) provides that a request can be made for an IRS-expedited review of the art valuation.

The client should understand that with valuable art, more may be included in his or her gross estate than the art itself. Art may have to be sold and substantial commissions paid on the sales. If that is the case, it may be desirable to mandate in estate planning documents that a sale be made by the executor so that the commissions are deductible as administrative expenses. The only other way that commissions paid on the sale of the art after death are deductible from the estate is if the sale is necessary to pay the estate taxes. In other words, if the art is sold by the estate (for any reason other than it was essential to pay estate taxes) and the estate planning documents do not mandate that the art be sold, then the expenses of the sale, which can be significant, will not be deductible. Therefore, in essence, the heirs will be paying an estate tax on the lost deduction.

That is one reason it is important to have a frank discussion with family, beneficiaries, and any intended charity before bequeathing art. If a piece of art has always been in the client’s family and the client believes that his or her children wish to receive it, it is wise to have a conversation with the children or heirs to see if they want the art or if they are more interested in converting it to cash. In reality, the children or heirs may be unable to pay the taxes and the cost of maintaining the art.

The possible lack of deduction from the taxable estate for expenses attributable to the sale of art underscores how critical it is to discuss the art’s legacy with heirs and with any charitable organization in the planning process. If the client wants to leave the art to a charitable organization and the organization is willing to accept it, then the art’s value is included in the taxable estate and the estate receives a charitable deduction for the gift. If the charitable organization does not accept it and there is no alternative provision and the art is sold and added to the residue or passes to individual heirs, the expenses attributable to the sale are not deductible.

If, in the discussion about art, one family member does wish to receive it, then in the planning process you must carefully address how the estate taxes on that art are to be paid —who is to bear the burden of that tax? Is it the recipient or is it the estate’s remaining assets? Another option may be to consider what is known as a disclaimer—that is, the client leaves the art to the charitable organization or to a family member, and if they disclaim it (or choose not to take it) then the will mandates the sale of that asset to ensure that the estate will receive the requisite deduction.

If the client is considering gifting art to a charitable organization, find out now whether it is realistic for that organization to accept the gift and discuss any terms of the gift. Will there be any restrictions? Are those restrictions realistic? Are there endowment funds that will accompany the donation? It can be a burden to maintain and store art for a significant period of time. In my experience, donating funds to assist with maintenance and storage is prudent.

Charitable Remainder Trusts

Lifetime gifting options should be explored. There can be income tax benefits to making the gift of art—whether outright, in trust, or by fractional interest now. To assess the benefit, you must determine the income tax basis in the asset and quantify any capital gains tax that will be due on the sale. To avoid that gain, some clients consider transferring the art to a charitable remainder trust (CRT). A CRT (known as a split interest gift) is an irrevocable trust. The donor can gift the assets to the trust and retain the right to receive income for a predetermined period. When the income period ends, the CRT ends, and the remaining assets are distributed to the charitable organizations the donor has selected.

When the donor contributes an asset to the CRT, the donor will (in most cases) receive a current income tax deduction equal to the present value of the gift the charity will eventually receive when the CRT ends. Because CRTs are generally tax-exempt, appreciated assets can be gifted to a CRT and later sold without the donor or the trust owing capital gains tax. However, a CRT with unrelated business taxable income may be subject to a 100% excise tax on the unrelated business taxable income.

When the CRT is being established, the donor must decide the length of the income interest. In many cases, it is a lifetime payment stream (and/or for the lifetimes of one or more other persons the donor designates). As an alternative, the donor may direct that the income interest be paid for a specified period not to exceed 20 years. Once the specified income interest has concluded, the CRT terminates and the remaining assets are distributed to the charities that the donor has chosen.

Next week we’ll continue this discussion by looking at several types of trusts you may want to consider when making these types of gifts, as well as, the Fractional Gift option, and changes in the way these are managed.

Patricia Annino is a sought after speaker and nationally recognized authority on women and estate planning.  She educates and empowers women to value themselves and their contributions in order to ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS in the world – and in so doing PROTECT THEMSELVES, those they love, and the organizations they care about.  Annino recently released an updated version of her successful book, Women and Money: A Practical Guide to Estate Planning to include recent changes in the laws that govern how we protect our assets during and beyond our lifetime.  To download Annino’s FREE eBook, Estate Planning 101 visit,


  1. Joel Breitstein says:

    One thing to keep in mind when utilitzing a CRT for gifitng art or other collectibles is that the use will be considered unrelated and, therefore, the charitable income tax deduction will not be based on the fair market value of the asset at the time of gifting, but its cost or basis. The real value of the CRT when a donor wants to sell the art and reinvest the proceeds to produce income is the avoidance of the capital gain tax when the asset is sold inside the trust.

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