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Estate Planning Made Easy
By Mike Thorne

The slender paperback I'm reviewing this month is completely unlike the typical books I review in that it wasn't written to make either the authors (James L. Halperin and Gregory J. Rohan) or the publisher (Ivy Press, Inc.) a ton of money. In fact, it may even be a money-losing proposition.

Instead, The Collector's Handbook is an educational piece written by two of the principals of Heritage Auction Galleries and edited by Steven Roach, J.D., who is the director of trusts and estates at Heritage. Although the book, with a copyright date of 2007, has a list price of $14.95, I found it new on Amazon for as little as $3 plus shipping or used for as little as $0.33 plus shipping.

The focus of this book is on a topic that most of us don't devote much thought to: What will happen to your collection after you are no longer on the scene? As Steven Roach writes in the Introduction, "As a collector, you intimately know your collection. But the likely situation is that your heirs do not. The principals at Heritage Auction Galleries wrote this book to provide, in one place, information useful to collectors organizing their collection, advisors working with collections, and heirs who have inherited collections.&With some thoughtful preparation, the collection that you worked so hard to build can provide for those you care about and serve as a blessing, not a burden."

The book is divided into four parts, with an additional four appendices. Part 1 is titled "Administering Your Collection" and contains chapters dealing with record keeping, taking care of your collection, and safeguarding your collection.

In the chapter on record keeping, the authors provide excellent information on maintaining an inventory, with prices paid, when you bought the coin, etc. As in other chapters, there's a section titled "Tips for Heirs," which goes into some detail about the information a potential purchaser of the collection will need.

In the chapter on caring for your collection, there's a discussion of the importance of having good holders for long-term storage. "DO NOT attempt to clean any of the coins," appears in boldface letters in the Tips for Heirs section, as you would expect.

The chapter on safeguarding a collection deals with such topics as home security, storing and transporting your collectibles off-site, shipping, and insurance. Under Tips for Heirs, the authors write, "This chapter contains advice that may be the most important you will read.&Most importantly, get the collection (if it's small enough) to a safe-deposit box immediately. Until you have it safely tucked into a bank vault, don't tell anyone about it."

Part 2 involves estate planning. The first chapter in this part stresses the importance of including your family in your plans. From my experience, heirs tend to know little or nothing about the collection they've inherited, what it's worth, or what the collector would have wanted done with it. They are left no instructions, and they've never had a talk with the collector about his or her wishes.

The second chapter is titled "Division of Assets," and the authors note: "No single event has greater potential for dividing a family than dividing an inheritance." To this statement, I can only say, "Amen." One of the main things stressed in this chapter is the importance of good and open communication between all parties involved.

The last two chapters in this section deal with tax options and consider such topics as the estate tax, the gift tax, and the capital gains tax. There's even a chapter on charitable giving of the collection. As the authors note, "a charitable gift makes the most sense when dealing with collections that have incurred capital gains. As a general rule, property that is worth less today than what you paid for it should be sold

at a loss rather than given to charity. . . ."

Part 3 considers "Evaluating Your Collection," determining what it's worth, in other words. The first chapter in this section looks at third-party certification of your coins. This is something I strongly advocate and often mention in my articles. Obviously, if your coins are primarily low grade and low value, then it's a waste of money to have them certified. However, if your coins are valuable enough to warrant the expense of certification, then I would urge you to send them in to one of the major services.

One major reason I urge you to do this is that it will tell your unknowledgeable heir the grade of a particular piece, which is vitally important in establishing its value. With this grade in hand, the potential buyer will know that he can't get away with telling the heir that the coin is really a lower grade than the one on the holder and thus provide him an excuse to offer a price considerably below what it's really worth.

The next chapter talks about having the collection appraised. The authors look at different requirements of appraisals for income tax purposes, for estate tax purposes, and for gift tax purposes. There's even a section on appraisal for divorce.

The final part, "Disposing of your collection," talks about selling your collection through outright sale, through an agent, or at auction. Considering this is Heritage Auction Galleries, you can guess which has the longest treatment.

In summary, this small paperback book, with fewer than 130 pages, contains a wealth of information for collectors at all levels of the hobby. You can read it over a weekend, and I would urge you to share it with your potential heirs. If nothing else, place a copy on top of your collection, with important (to you) sections highlighted. Your heirs will be glad you did.


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