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The importance of 'keeping it real' in estate planning

The major holiday gift giving period is largely over. Hopefully you got all that you hoped for. In some families, some fun may have been had by exchanging so-called white elephant gifts. What that means is that someone might have wound up with one of late Uncle Murd's special collectibles, like the "Oh, So Comfy" Dachshund plate.

Uncle Murd loved dachshunds. And he lovingly kept that plate on his wall, in its special frame with the limited-edition certificate of authenticity (COA) clipped to it, so he probably felt it was worth something, or would be someday. As we have written about before, though, this can be a tricky area in the context of estate planning. While Murd found the dog endearing and the plate special, they became white elephants for relatives after he died. Maybe if it were worth something, views would be different.

Establishing clear expectations

This all comes to mind in light of a recent story about a Hummel figurine. The tale goes that the owners claimed a value for this "Collectible Hummel Apple Tree Boy" of nearly $10,000, possibly on an insurance claim. The challenge was made to a professional assessment company to determine its replacement value.

The expectation of a major windfall might have been legitimate. Hummel's limited-edition pieces have a reputation of increasing in value dating back to the 1940s. But this one had no accompanying information. No provenance. No COA. No trademark on the bottom. Not even a photograph. It had been handed down generation to generation and its real value had been lost through time.

After a lot of investigating that included a price check of current Hummel figurine pricing and the potential market for the figure in question, experts determined a replacement cost of just $250.

The point being that establishing the value of a collectible while it is in hand can be necessary to solid estate planning. Otherwise, something that is truly a treasure can become a white elephant.

Oh, and as for Uncle Murd's plate: A check of one online sales site suggests it might fetch about $15, even with its 23-karat gold edging.

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