The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, Some Things for Art Collectors to Consider

In late 2017, President Trump signed into law, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which went into effect on January 1, 2018. Tax attorneys and accountants are in the process of unpacking this law, and how it affects their clients’ personal and business interests. Personal Property appraisers, those of us who value a wide range of tangible assets, including fine art, rare books, collectibles, jewelry, automobiles and yachts among many other things, also need to understand how this will affect our clients, from the perspective of estate planning, donation, gifting, inheritance and sale.  As is commonly known, the 2017 tax reform bill doubles the exemptions for estate tax up to $11.2 million for individuals and $22.4 million for a couple. For the vast majority of U.S. citizens, this will eliminate the need for an appraisal for estate tax calculation.

For those whose estates have an overall value above this new federal exemption threshold, beneficiaries will still need a Fair Market Value appraisal, as of the date of death, of their personal property. For example, a painting by an artist like Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), purchased by the deceased in 1985 for $10,000 will, given the exponential growth in Basquiat’s market, be worth significantly more in 2018. This stepped-up basis is not only required for estate tax calculation but also for any possible future sale and reporting for income tax. If the painting is sold for $200,000 in 2019, the 28% capital gains tax will be based on the 2018 appraised value rather than the 1985 purchase price. The tax basis of any gifts of personal property transferred within a family, say from mother to daughter while the mother is still alive, is subject to the donor’s tax basis not the donee’s. It may be worth delaying such a gift in order to obtain the after death stepped-up in basis tax benefit.

When it comes to your art collection, these are just a few things to consider in light of the tax reform bill. And remember, the federal estate tax exemption levels are set to expire at the end of 2025, reverting back to the 2017 levels.

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