If you’re named an executor of an estate, part of your job is to oversee the valuation of assets. So, what does that entail? Finding out how much the estate is worth and how that value is distributed will determine not only your approach to probate, but also the allocation of the assets among the heirs, and how much the estate will pay in taxes. In the case of larger estates, valuation can be a huge responsibility. It may even require you to bring in experts to value antiques and other collectibles.

One thing to note is to expect to be challenged whenever you value assets, by the IRS, by heirs, by creditors or by the court. Be sure you’re valuing everything reasonably.

Certain types of assets are easy to value, such as the contents of a bank account or shares of stock in a publicly-traded company. To value stocks or precious metals, average the highest and lowest selling price for similar items on the date of the owner’s death. For mutual funds, use the closing valuation.

Other assets, such as a used car or collectible, don’t have such a definitive value. You estimate their value by using public references like collectible websites such as Worthpoint.com. When valuing real estate, you can check out the tax assessor’s valuation and talk to a real estate agent about comparable properties in the area.

Go with the pros

Some assets are really difficult to value, like artwork or a private business. For assets like these, you should hire a professional appraiser. Keep in mind that appraisers typically charge between $125 and $400 an hour, and often with an extra charge for visiting the site. It’s a good rule to avoid appraisers who charge based on a percentage of the asset’s value. This goes against the ethics of the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice.

You should ask whether the appraiser has any certifications or memberships in professional organizations, and also ask them for a written estimate of the appraisal fee in advance. Among the items that can be listed as household contents are books, tools, and appliances, and you can ask for one overall valuation estimate for them. You may want to get an individual appraisal for any individual items that were specifically bequeathed in the will. The value of household items should be done based on what a buyer would pay for the items as-is.

Should the heirs decide to sell everything in an estate sale, use a reputable estate sale company. Since there are variations in quality and condition as well as changes in economic conditions and local demand, descriptions and values should be seen as general guidelines.

Lastly, a few keynotes as you proceed with the valuation,

  1. Be aware of the pitfalls. Heirs could be upset if a particular asset doesn’t meet the value they expected.
  2. Document your work in case there are questions later, and work closely with legal and financial professionals as you move forward.

When you’re ready to begin the probate process, call Charles Bendig. With over 40 years of experience practicing law before all Ohio state and federal courts, you can rest easy knowing you’re in good hands. I’ll walk you through every step of the process together.

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