Estate Planning for Art Collections

Wassily Kandinsky, Farbstudie.jpgWith the economy improving, seasoned collectors are now watching the fine art estimates in New York’s upcoming auctions. Collecting art, a passion and hobby for many, is also a way to accumulate and transfer wealth for next generations. The disposition of art, however, should include careful planning with a trusted and experienced New York estate planning attorney.Families often employ the “empty hook” method when it comes to art collections. When a collector dies, heirs quietly take valuable art work out of a home, sometimes claiming what is “theirs” by name tags placed on the objects. This creates an “empty hook.”

There are many potential pitfalls when attempting to avoid the Internal Revenue Service’s various taxes on the purchase, sale and transfer of fine art. The first and most dastardly is the limitless statute of limitations on estate tax fraud or on a taxable gift for which no return was ever filed (Internal Revenue Code Section 6501(c)). Because art never truly “disappears,” one does well to remember that neither does a tax liability. An error of disclosure, e.g. not properly planning to gift art in adherence to IRS rules and regulations, may become a costly legacy to bestow on the next generation. (Tax fraud is not something to pass on.)

Heirs can also be liable for a penalty of 20 percent of the tax due if there is an underreporting of an asset’s value by 50 percent, and a penalty of 40 percent of the tax due if the value of the property is underreported by 75 percent (IRC Section 6662). Failure to report assets at all subjects the owner to a fraud penalty set out in IRC Section 6663. These fines can also raise the transfer cost on an unreported piece of artwork to over 80 percent.
A valuable collection may best belong inside of a trust for proper administration after death.

A New York estate planning attorney is able to advise on when this is appropriate and why.

Tax code citations in this blog post were taken from Trusts & Estates Magazine, June 2005

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