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An African Art Estate

Imagine the following story:

“John and Jane’s” parents recently passed away, one predeceasing the other by just weeks.  Mom and Dad left behind “a lot of stuff,” including a significant collection of African art.

During the mid-1960s, after their Peace Corps days in Africa, their parents acquired what would be the first of many African artworks. Early on, they purchased mostly masks and statues, and then added pottery, bronzes, and textiles, exemplifying their refined tastes.  At the height of their collection building, they documented the objects’ provenance.  Over the years, select pieces were featured for exhibition and included in publications by noted scholars, dealers, and museum curators. Thankfully, they kept excellent records, such as, sale receipts from reputable dealers, as well as, catalogs from regional, national and international auction houses. Those documents help establish authenticity and provenance, which, obviously, affect value.

John and Jane, as co-executors of their parent’s estate, will make several decisions about what to do with Mom and Dad’s collection. They both wish very much to honor their parent’s legacy and passion for collecting.  Their goal is to ensure that the collection continues to be appreciated.

A “qualified appraiser” will help John and Jane determine what makes the collection memorable. The appraiser will help them tell their parent’s story and the story of the objects themselves. The appraiser will help them navigate the following:

1.  They will need to prepare an IRS Estate Tax filing.  The filing will include an appraisal of the collection, determining its Fair Market Value.
2. They will choose the items they wish to personally keep and will consider the Marketable Cash Value appraisal for equitable distribution purposes.
3. A few select pieces will be donated to a Museum for its permanent collection.  They will need to file another Fair Market Value appraisal with the IRS for charitable donation (IRS Form 8283).
4. Lastly, the remainder of the collection will be sold, utilizing both the private treaty method via Estate Sale and consignment to auction.  The proceeds will then be shared between John and Jane.

Without the connoisseurship and valuation skills of a “qualified appraiser,” John and Jane would probably take years to identify and accomplish their objectives. Such a task is difficult, especially when dealing with such a rich and nuanced subject matter like African Art. The last thing their parents would have wanted is for the pair to resent the collection, or each other, by handling the job themselves.


Co-Authors: Lynn Magnusson, ASA, AAA and Becky Lipnick, Communications Coordinator

With Assistance by African Art Appraiser, Donna Thompson Ray

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