Picture Perfect Planning for Art Inheritance

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Inheriting art isn’t as simple as hanging a picture on the wall.

Inheriting art can feel like hitting the lottery. You have something of value you didn’t expect or work hard for. Depending on the piece, your net worth can jump significantly. It’s enough to get you excited for sure.

Settle down. No doubt, this is a good thing, a very good thing. But, know that while your treasure may have been “free,” that’s not to say there are no costs.

Here’s what you need to know about inheriting art.


“It is possible that the Picasso is a copy with no value at all,” says Jeffrey Greener, a trusts and estates partner at the law firm of Rivkin Radler in Uniondale. “There are many appraisers out there and each have different specialties, so doing due diligence is warranted.”

He recommends choosing an appraiser who is affiliated with at least one of the three major appraisal organizations: The Appraisers Association of America, the American Society of Appraisers or the International Society of Appraisers.


Once you know how much your gift is worth, look for insurance. Proof of purchase, invoice, and/or an appraisal are needed to find the insurable value, according to Rosemary Whisler, an insurance adviser with Cook Maran’s private client unit in Melville.

“Depending on the appraised value, it may be possible to include the piece under your homeowners’ insurance,” says Jeremy Larner, president of JKL Worldwide, a fine arts consultancy in New York City. “Alternately, you may want to insure your art under a special policy that covers a higher amount and takes into consideration things like breakage and movement of art.”

Also consider Art Title Protection Insurance, which protects against disputes that are related to ownership.

Considerations include determining how much coverage to buy (for example, the full value or some lesser amount), whether that coverage will be a fixed or “agreed value,” or whether you will be reimbursed at whatever current market value is at the time of the loss. Greener explains that an agreed value policy works well if the market value has fallen but not if it has increased.

Also, using an agreed value policy may also require you to have your artwork appraised from time to time to ensure that you remain fully covered. But be reasonable.

“Don’t overinsure for crazy values,” cautions Jonathan Greenstein, owner and operator of J Greenstein & Co., a Cedarhurst company specializing in Jewish art and antiques. “That will only add to your costs.”

Where should you turn for help?

“Always consult a reputable insurance broker with experience in the arena of fine art and one that has garnered relationships with the high-net-worth carriers, such as Chubb, AIG, and PURE,” says Whisler.


Another reason you need an appraisal is for taxes. You need to establish the fair market value of the art as of the owner’s date of death because you, the heir, will receive a “stepped-up basis” in it.

“Essentially that means the built-in gain in the piece is wiped out and it’s as if you, the heir, purchased the art for the then-current value,” says estate planning attorney Nathan Jones of Nathan Jones Law in Missouri. “Later, if you sell the artwork, you can pay significantly less tax on any gain in value.”

Art that is appraised in excess of $50,000 could be subject to a review by the IRS Art Advisory Panel, points out Larner.


Keep a file on works of art, especially those inherited. Are there receipts, gallery correspondence, or any family history related to that work of art?

“It is excellent practice to keep this information in a file, or directly attached to the back of the work,” says Graydon Sikes, director of artwork at Everything But The House, (ebth.com), an online estate sale marketplace. “This ‘provenance,’ or ownership history, is often critical to the value of a work. A collector always wishes to know any background information about an object.”

Proper storage and maintenance is a must. You want to preserve your loved one’s legacy and at some point, pay it forward.