Preparing an inventory of movable assets for an estate
In this article, we explain in what circumstances an inventory of movable assets is necessary, who can prepare it, how it can help you settle an estate in Quebec and, finally, what it should contain, whether it is compiled by an expert or by you.
As someone who specializes in preparing inventories and appraising property, I regularly meet families who wonder whether an inventory and appraisal of property are necessary in their situation. By asking them a few questions, I can quickly set them on the right path.
Since I am not a notary, I will only discuss the topic of movable assets, since that is my specialty. Should you have any questions about the other things that should be included in an inventory, I would suggest that you contact a notary at the Chambre des notaires, who will be able to answer them.
First of all, you need to understand that an inventory of movable assets is not only important, but essential, because it provides a snapshot of a person’s physical assets as of a certain date. While some estates may contain very few movable assets and/or valuables, it is nevertheless important to draw up a brief inventory. As far as movable assets are concerned, the executor must list all objects whose value exceeds $100. Of course, it is not necessary to describe every item in minute detail if there are few items of value in the estate. Nevertheless, I invite you to call upon an independent appraiser to make sure that the valuations are free of error. It is not uncommon for us to discover small, hidden treasures that the family wanted to throw out or give away! Valuable items such as works of art, jewellery, cars and other items must also be listed in the inventory. If you are not comfortable with evaluating these items yourself, I strongly suggest that you call in an expert, independent if possible, to find out the fair market value of the item. Moreover, it is important to make sure that the person appraising your jewellery is capable of doing it. Every week, we see appraisals made by neighbourhood jewellery stores in which the amounts bear no relation to the true market value. An inaccurate appraisal can penalize the estate, as it will be obliged to pay taxes.
A more detailed report is required in cases where several heirs need to divide up the assets appropriately. The inventory will help you fairly distribute the entire estate. An inventory with a detailed appraisal of each item can help you make enlightened decisions. With this document in hand, you will be in a better position to decide what to give away, what to sell and what to throw out. This document will ensure that no mistakes are made. Furthermore, should a dispute arise between the heirs, or should the possibility of a dispute emerge, it is always preferable to have the opinion of an independent person. This will greatly facilitate the process. Finally, an inventory of assets prepared by an independent expert will protect the executor against possible legal action by another heir or family member. If an appraisal error is made, the company will bear responsibility, rather than the executor. In many families, we notice that tensions arise when the time comes to settle an estate. If the executor has a report from an independent firm in hand, he/she will be able to prove that he/she has acted to the best of his/her knowledge and is fulfilling the role of executor in transparent fashion. If the dispute were to degenerate and a legal challenge were brought against the executor in court, he/she would be able to prove that he/she had acted in good faith. It would then be up to the appraisal firm to demonstrate its expertise and the veracity of the report that it had issued.
It’s easy to draw up a good inventory of movable assets yourself. There are several free templates available on the Internet, or you can do it directly in Word or Excel. Should you decide to take a detailed approach, I recommend that you use the first column to specify the room of the house. This will make it easier to find the item, as opposed to dividing the objects into categories. The next column can provide a description of each appraised item, including its dimensions. This will help you if you decide to sell the assets, since you will have all the information right at hand. In the next column you can insert a photo, so the item can be easily recognized. Finally, you can finish with the item’s market value in the last column.
If no dispute arises and no item of great value is listed in your inventory, you can easily do the evaluation yourself. You can get a good idea of market values by checking out resale sites such as Kijiji, Craiglist, Lespacs or Ebay. Of course, you must make sure that the person who placed the advertisement is not a retailer, and is not completely disconnected from market realities. For example, a Colonial style dining set offered at $1000 would be totally out of line and should not be used as a basis for comparison, since other sets are usually sold for between $100 and $200! Still, these sites can give you a good idea of values. Don’t forget to look at the date on which the ad was posted; if an item has been on offer for several months without selling, it’s probably because it is too expensive. When doing your research, try to find comparables that are as similar to your item as possible (production date, brand, model, etc.). The more the characteristics match those of your item, the closer the asking price will be to the market value you should list. For example, if you were to appraise a Maytag brand refrigerator, you should find a comparable refrigerator of similar age, and a model that most closely resembles yours (freezer at the top or the bottom, French doors, etc.), of the same colour and in the same condition as yours. Of course, it’s not easy to find an object that exactly matches yours in every respect. You need to analyze the features and compare your item with the one being offered. Is your item more recent? in better condition? more attractive? It’s up to you to determine this by detaching yourself from your feelings for this object. Many people confuse sentimental value with market value, and assign a higher value to an item because it has belonged to someone who was dear to them.
For appraisals of artwork, I recommend that you work with a consultant or independent appraiser rather than an art dealer. That way, you will have a better idea of the fair market value. The same holds true for all valuables. For jewellery, you can talk to a certified gemmologist.
Regardless of whom you deal with, the order of the day is to be assured of the individual’s professionalism, expertise and impartiality to be sure that everything is done according to best practices. Many clients have told us stories of having been hoodwinked by so-called “professionals” who care only about money. It’s important to ask for references and to work with a person who has a great deal of experience.
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