The reason we are discussing artwork today is because it can sometimes be a little bit tricky to make sure that artwork goes where you want it to go after you pass away. There may be a few extra steps that you could take to ensure that your treasured artwork goes to the proper beneficiary. 

What is so tricky about estate planning for artwork?

The financial value of artwork is subjective, and ranges from strictly sentimental value to nearly incalculable value. The value of artwork is also not static. Often, original artwork, such as a painting, is only valuable years or generations after the death of the artist. 

Because artwork is tangible personal property, it seems like it should be really simple to pass it on. Name it in your personal property memorandum and you’re done, right. Well, maybe it should be that simple. Naming your valued artwork in your trust or will is certainly a vital step in ensuring that it will end up where you design. However, when the beneficiary of a valuable piece of art is not privy to the trust documentation it can be easy for trustees to ignore this line in the memorandum in order to keep potentially valuable artwork in the family. Because of this, there are a few additional planning steps that we recommend.

Additional Steps to Take

Sometimes an art buyer bequeaths artwork back to the original artist, to an art museum, or to a local institution like a church or university. If you are considering leaving your artwork to someone who will not have full access to your will or trust documents, we recommend a few extra steps to take. 

First, ensure that the trustee or trustees that you choose are willing to honor your wishes. Discuss in advance the items that will not be going to family members and why you have chosen to do this. Emphasize that this decision is important to you. 

Second, we recommend providing official documentation of the painting (or other artwork), its authenticity, and your intention to gift the artwork directly to the person or organization you intend to receive it. If art Museum ABC isn’t aware that you have chosen to leave them all of your artwork, and your family decides to ignore that distribution paragraph, who is going to know? No one. We have various clients who have told us of artwork that was supposed to come to them or their organization, and when the trust was executed, they simply never received anything. 

Finally, as the old cliche goes, possession is nine tenths of the law.  If you have any doubts as to the distribution of artwork or other valuables after your death, consider gifting these items during your lifetime. If you plan to give some beloved artwork to your favorite art museum, maybe you don’t want to wait. To avoid legal disputes, provide written documentation or the transfer of ownership to the individual or organization.

Estate Planning Lawyer Near You

The takeaway is that it’s good to take a few extra steps to ensure that your treasured artwork goes where you want it to go, and stays there. We are estate planning attorneys, and our blog and podcast are for educational and entertainment purposes only. If you have artwork that may be valuable, we recommend meeting with your local estate planning attorney to set up an estate plan that specifically accounts for the distribution of your unique, tangible assets. 

To listen to our full podcast about artwork and legal disputes over ownership, click here