A Guide to Inheriting Art

Inheriting art (or a whole collection) can be intimidating especially if you do not know your options. Here’s what you need to know.

The art world is complex, capricious and often difficult to navigate. It can, therefore, be particularly daunting when inheriting an artwork or an entire collection without proper knowledge of the myriad divesting options available. Regardless of the path chosen, it is crucial to either consult a professional or conduct your own research to determine a work’s fair market value. This way, whether you keep or deaccession the art, you are aware of its worth.

If you determine the artwork has significant value, you may decide to donate it to a museum or an academic or religious institution. While you can benefit from the gratification of contributing to cultural preservation, an added bonus is that it can be considered a tax-deductible, charitable donation. (*consultation with a tax professional is advised).

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An alternate route is to sell. Find the gallery from which the artwork was originally acquired and they may buy it back or take it on consignment. If that is not possible, research another gallery that specializes in the artist or period relevant to your piece to increase its selling viability. Similarly, you can find an auction house that best suits your artwork. While it might be successful at auction, be wary of the risk that when a piece fails to sell it may become tainted – tantamount to the perception that homes become considered stale when on the real estate market for too long.

You can also offer the artwork to a private dealer who has the luxury of time, allowing them to network strategically and extensively over a reasonable time period. They will likely be able to grant your artwork close attention, whereas gallerists may be overly invested in their own exhibitions and marketing endeavors.

In all cases outlined, terms of deaccessioning must be pre-determined, including commission rate and payment terms, to ensure no surprises arise.

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