Passing Art to Future Generations

Art. paintings on the walls inside an eclectic home.

When I think of putting together my will, I think of who will get my stuff. You know, the stuff that is all over the walls, jewelry, or knick knacks and paddy whacks.

Curiously, wills do not necessarily contain detailed paragraphs about who will inherit each of these things of ours. Items of this nature, unless they consist of large and very valuable collections, do not necessarily get passed down to the next generation in dedicated paragraphs in a will. In fact, these things, our tangible personal property (or TPP, as we lawyers like to call it), consist of general paragraphs calling on our heirs to simply pick and choose and give the rest to charity. There may be a TPP list attached to the back of a will, written out and signed by hand that identifies what and to whom.

As an estate planning and probate attorney, I have realized that sometimes our heirs do not feel the sentimental attachment to our things the way we do. When those things are of high value and ones we do not like, it may bring up feelings of resentment toward our recently passed loved ones because it may become difficult to dispose of these unwanted items.

And, as an art collector, I have very definite ideas about what I want to happen to my art when I am gone.

With those perspectives in mind, here are a few tips when getting your affairs in order when it comes to your art; of course, these tips can also apply to other possessions you would like to be cared for by your heirs

  1. Keep an inventory of your art. I know the idea of this might seem daunting, but just keeping a simple spreadsheet with name of acquisition, details, price paid, appraisal (if any), and dates will go a long way.
  2. Designate who is to inherit each piece. Perhaps it’s your son or daughter, or a friend; just make sure your wishes are written down so when the time comes they will be clear.
  3. Designate alternates for each piece. Maybe your son or daughter never liked that artist, so think about the art center, museum, or community organization that will appreciate and benefit from a gift of art.
  4. Gift your art today. If there is a piece you haven’t hung on your walls for years and you simply have put it away to collect dust, consider gifting the art piece while you’re alive. It is satisfying to see friends and family enjoy art now, and at the same time breathe new life and appreciation for an art piece in a new location.
  5. Gift your art back to the artist. This is a hard one. You paid for it so why give it back? Artists generally struggle. Giving the piece back to the artist may have tremendous sentimental value for them, or simply allow them to resell it again, which during these times, especially, may be a big financial win for an artist in need.

Art is highly personal and should be treated as such. Just because you love a piece of art today, does not mean your kids will love it tomorrow. Make plans now for what happens to your art when you’re gone, just as you would for anything else of meaning in your life.