The Tax Collector and Your Collection

Tax Collector and Your Collection

The Tax Collector and Your Collection

One of my clients is an avid stamp collector. He has decided that upon his death, his modest collection will go to his granddaughter who grew up learning about and loving his hobby during their summers together.

Individuals pass more to their heirs than just real estate and money – a significant portion of wealth that is inherited comes in the form of art, jewelry, heirlooms and collections.

The difficulty in determining the value of these items and the fluctuations in tax law between this year and next are proving to be tricky for estate planning and estate settlement.

If an inherited asset that is appreciated in value is sold, the profits likely are subject to the capital gains tax. In previous years, capital gains taxes were measured based on the value of the item at the time of the of the original owner’s death under a step up in cost basis.

But, because the step up in cost basis has been suspended this year along with the estate tax, the capital gains tax against 2010 heirs will be measured based on the original owner’s purchase price – not the item’s current value – unless the estate’s executor includes that item as part of the $1.3 million step up that all estates get.

This could be a valuation and tax nightmare for my client’s granddaughter should my client die in 2010. The capital gains tax for collectibles is 28 percent. And many rare objects will require evidence of provenance and proof that taxes were paid on previous sales.

If you have rare collectibles or heirlooms that you intend to pass on, have the items appraised (every five years is recommended) and keep any papers of provenance and purchase in an accessible file. With the return of the estate tax in 2011, you might also consider donating rare collectibles to a museum or other charity, which would allow you to deduct a portion of their value from your estate leaving more to your heirs.

My client’s collection likely holds more sentimental value for his granddaughter than economic, but her grandfather’s pride in his stamps and meticulous record-keeping will protect her from terrible tax confusion when his collection finally becomes hers.