A relative passes away and leaves an estate with a large amount of jewelry to your family. You’re the executor and are in charge to make sure everything left is distributed properly. The instructions are pretty straightforward that everything goes to your family, and your relative assumed everything would be liquidated. It’s a pretty easy situation of being able to just distribute or sell everything involved, including the jewelry, right? Absolutely not.
In every state, the property left behind from a person passing away, their estate, has to be legally settled before anyone can do anything with it, including selling and liquidation. Even if there is no will saying what should be done, the estate still has to go through the probate process via the court. The probate process is the legal procedure that specifies how an estate will be officially passed on so no one can argue the matter after the fact, accusing someone of theft, etc.
Florida and Probate
Florida is known as a Uniform Probate Code (UPC) state. In such a jurisdiction, there are three probate processes: informal, unsupervised formal, and supervised formal probate. With the informal approach, everybody involved gets along and there are no creditors looking to settle any debts from the estate. The entire process involves paperwork without an actual court hearing to simply file the necessary records. A final accounting inventory and statement is filed with the court to close the estate in a final step. This approach cannot be used if anyone contests the probate.
An unsupervised informal probate involves a traditional probate approach, including a hearing, and is often used when someone contests the matter but it can be resolved. Any property that needs to be sold during the process has to have court approval first.
A formal supervised probate is very rare, and the court pretty much gets involved with every step of managing the estate. This is often done via a court trustee officer who has the power to make all daily decisions under the court’s direction. Nothing can be done or liquidated without the court’s formal approval.
The General Process
During probate, the court will first question whether there is a will or some legal document signed by the decedent, the person who just passed away, specifying how his property should be distributed. In most cases, the court will honor the document if it it exists and is prepared correctly without any changes. Where the court will modify or reject the document is if a party to the probate can adequately show the document was prepared under duress, is a fraud, or the decedent was too sick or mentally incapacitated to know what he signed. Regardless of the arguments, the court ends up being the ultimate decision-maker on who gets what.
While in probate nothing can be done with the estate property in terms of liquidation without a court approval. No jewelry can be passed on or sold to a third party. The executor does have limited rights to protect the estate and maintain it, paying those expenses out of the estate’s net value, which is done via a filing to the court to approve such costs. Often, the legal representation costs of probate are charged to the estate as well. Anyone who tries to do otherwise with estate property can actually be arrested and charged with a crime, depending on a given state’s laws regarding violating the probate process.
Once the legal process is over and the estate is settled, i.e. the court has determined a final decision on what property goes where, then estate jewelry can be distributed, sold and liquidated. Many parties to an estate will be very quick to just sell the property, not really understanding what they have received, which is a poor way to liquidate such items.
Estate jewelry essentially involves all jewelry a decedent may have collected over the years of life, often include pieces of jewelry that have distinct work and designs from decades before. It is quite common in some families that estate jewelry includes items that have been passed down generation after generation, first crafted in the 1800s and 1900s. While many such pieces may seem antiquated today, it is still important to understand their history and manufacture before doing anything with these pieces.
Evaluating estate jewelry frequently identifies not just what materials were used to create a given piece, but also where and when it was made. In some cases, such an analysis could increase the known value of a piece, especially if it turns out to have been made in a limited production by a famous crafter. However, just knowing the background doesn’t automatically put a new price tag on an estate jewelry piece. It needs to be certified by a licensed, expert appraiser. So an appraisal fee is necessary to confirm a piece’s potential worth in current markets.
Pros and Cons of an Appraisal
Keep in mind as well, an appraisal only certifies the top value an estate jewelry item could sell for with an expert evaluation. It does not guarantee at all that an owner will actually receive that price from anyone. In fact, real sale prices are often far lower than appraisal prices for a number of reasons.
First, supply and demand ultimately dictate most of a selling price. If no one in the area is looking for a specific jewelry type, then it won’t sell for very much.
Second, any commercial buyer and most regular private buyers will want a margin of profit on the sale. They fully intend to resell the item, so for it to be an attractive purchase the jewelry has to be marked down enough to make it worth the time to buy. Estate sellers who demand full value will often be turned away and find themselves not being able to liquidate an item at all.
Third, general economic times have some influence on price as well. If times are bad in a seller’s region, prices in general become deflated. Less people are buying jewelry, which means commercial buyers have less interest in adding to their inventory which isn’t moving very well. They may still have an interest in buying an item, but not
Things to Remember
If you are authorized to be involved with an estate and related jewelry, nothing can be done with the items until the estate is legally settled. The property should be protected, and any expenses paid to do so should be carefully tracked and accounted for so they can be reimbursed from the estate later on. Once the estate is settled, estate jewelry pieces should be appraised to know their true value and background. Then, depending on marketing conditions, a party can make an educated sale of such items, knowing the actual value the jewelry should receive in the Florida area.