TIPS OF THE TRADE: PENNIES FROM HEAVEN: INVENTORYING, VALUING, AND DISTRIBUTING COIN COLLECTIONS
By Steven M. Goldberg, Esq.* and Lawrence D. Goldberg, PNG**
You are meeting with your client about her deceased father’s estate. After discussing his real property and liquid assets, your client tells you her father was a longtime avid collector of coins and precious metals. She describes the collection as including what sounds like thousands of coins: plastic tubes or paper rolls of them, blue or brown books with page after heavy page of silver dollars, half dollars, and smaller denominations inserted, and heavy canvas bank bags filled with silver or copper coins of various denominations. She tells you the collection includes gold coins of varying sizes either in rolls, small cardboard or plastic sleeves, envelopes, or hard plastic cases some of which might be professionally certified. In addition, she describes gold and silver bars, old bank notes, antique coins, proof sets, mint sets, and other commemorative coins. The estate property might also include scrap gold, jewelry, watches, or stamps.
One of the first tasks will be to determine the ownership of the collection and, therefore, who has the right to sell or make distribution of the coins. Is the collection an asset of a living trust? Even if not specifically mentioned in the trust, the schedule of assets attached to many living trust instruments includes a generic description of tangible personal property, which may be enough to include a coin collection in the trust assets. A broad interpretation of such a description in the schedule of assets may well be an acceptable solution given that coins do not have title documents. More general transfer clauses in the trust instruments or related assignments may be useful as well, if specific attention was not paid to the collection in the planning process.
Absent a trust, a probate may be required. Significant accumulations could easily have a value exceeding $166,250, thereby making Probate Code 13100 inapplicable. Even if the collection has a value under $166,250, it may be enough to cause the aggregate value of probate assets to exceed the statutory limit.