When Your Estate IS a “Work of Art”

For many owners of artwork or decorative collectibles, scenario planning works well for individual or a small number of items.

Estate planning is a process, not a “one-and-done” event. Sometimes anticipating future curveballs in life may necessitate weaving scenario planning into your estate planning.

As the expression suggests, scenario planning requires thinking through “if, then” events. A recent example of such planning comes to us in the form of the Ilena Sonnabend estate and the Rauschenberg painting, “Canyon.”

If you have been following this saga in the press, then you know “Canyon” is a mixed- media work (to say the least) that features the preserved remains of a bald eagle. Before you rush out to acquire a similar piece for your own collection, be forewarned: It is only legal to own such “media” with special permission, and it is outright illegal to sell it.

Hoping to make the best of that odd twist of legal fate, estate advisors counted the work as an asset without value for estate tax purposes upon Sonnabend’s passing. Unfortunately for the estate, the Art Advisory Panel cried foul and pegged the value at $65 million, even if it couldn’t be sold in the U.S.

While a chorus of critics rose up against the heavy-handed IRS for this draconian valuation, a recent article in Forbes has a different take. Titled “'Canyon' Controversy – Blame The Advisers Not The IRS,” the author blames the estate advisors and the lack of scenario planning.

In this situation, the main contingency happened to be the very object the estate advisors were giddy to exploit. They targeted the apparent lack of resale value of the art piece. As the article notes, this case should serve as an example to estate advisors and their clients regarding the value of scenario planning, especially in the current economic, tax and political climate.

You can learn more about estate planning and elder law issues on our website. Be sure to sign up for our complimentary e-newsletter to stay abreast of issues like

these that could affect you, your loved ones and your estate planning.

Reference: Forbes (July 24, 2012) “"Canyon" Controversy – Blame The Advisers Not The IRS

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We've been putting together as many resources as possible so that we can continue to help:

  • If you’re a current client with a signing appointment or a prospective client with a consultation and would prefer that meeting take place in your own home, we can accomplish that with a little bit of pre-planning on our part and with the addition of a laptop, smartphone, tablet or other computer in your home to facilitate this virtual meeting. For those of you that need to sign legal documents, that too can be accomplished with the use of a webcam (FaceTime etc.), so that we can witness and electronically notarize all of your important legal documents.
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Update to our Process

The unprecedented coronavirus pandemic has taken our entire country by surprise. We understand how difficult this time is for America’s businesses and families.  However, we believe it is vitally important that we make every effort possible to continue to offer solutions that avoid disrupting our important partnership with you, your family and friends.  As you know, estate planning is not something that should wait for a more convenient time, therefore the opportunity to address your important goals both during and after this crisis should not wait.  To that end, we have added the option of a ‘virtual consultation’ to our office process.  You will now have a choice of either meeting with us in our office or in the comfort of your own home.