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How to Appraise an Estates Intangible Assets

Although valuing tangible property may give you scope for some creative research, calculating the value of an estate’s intangible property, those bank and brokerage accounts, and any stocks or bonds that the decedent physically held, should help complete your quest. Provided that you have a complete list of the intangible property, figuring out what it was worth on the date of death should be a simple matter of math.

Bank accounts

Figuring out how much was in each bank account on the date of death isn’t too difficult. Just send a letter to the bank explaining what you want, together with a copy of the death certificate and your appointment as executor. Be sure to request the balance at the date of death plus any interest that has accrued between the last payment date and the date of death.

Remember, the decedent may have written checks prior to death that hadn’t cleared the bank by the date of death. In this case, adjust for these withdrawals by subtracting them from the balance given to you by the bank. Of course, in the interest of showing all your work (make your former math teacher proud), list the bank’s balance and then the offsetting checks.

Securities

Valuing securities, such as stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, isn’t quite as easy. When determining their value, you’re required to take an average of the high and low costs for the date of death and then multiply it by the size of the holding.

For example, if your decedent held 50 shares of XYZ Corporation, and on the date of death, it traded at a high value of $50 and a low value of $40, the average cost per share would be $45.

When multiplied by the 50 shares owned, the total value of that holding on the date of death would be $2,250. If the decedent died on a weekend or holiday, you have to average the average cost on the last trading day before death and the first trading day after death in order to arrive at the date-of-death value.

If the decedent held securities in a brokerage account, you may be able to obtain a valuation from the broker as of the date of death, especially if you ask for it soon after death. Be certain that the broker understands that this is a date-of-death valuation, though, because otherwise she will give you the closing price for that day, not an average of the high and low costs.

Another source for the date-of-death high and low of a stock or bond is The Wall Street Journal issue from your decedent’s date of death, which is available at your local library if you don’t have a subscription.

If you have access to the Internet,try Prudential-American Securities Inc., which can give you date-of-death values or alternate valuation for all stocks and bonds, including municipal bonds, for four dollars per issue, with a minimum charge of ten dollars. Remember: This fee doesn’t come out of your pocket; it’s paid for with estate funds.

Intellectual property and copyrights

Intellectual property and copyright issues used to arise only in the estates of artists, authors, inventors, and owners of closely held businesses, and of course, if your decedent is one of those persons, you may have that issue in your estate. But now, if your decedent had any digital music and or video accounts or an e-book reader, you’re talking intellectual property too.

  • Digital music, videos, and e-books: Whether you as executor can transfer the contents of digital music and video accounts (such as iTunes) and e-book readers to the beneficiaries of the estate is a question that is still being litigated. You’ll want to check with an attorney to see the state of the law as cases currently in the courts are decided.

    You can, however, distribute the decedent’s device which contains the contents of the account — but that device, of course, can’t be split among beneficiaries or copied, which is a problem where the decedent hasn’t left the device to one person specifically.

  • Other intellectual property and copyright issues: If your decedent was an artist, author, inventor, and sometimes, the owner of a closely held business, you’re going to have intellectual property and copyright issues. For intellectual property, think designs, inventions and discoveries, published and unpublished written and musical works, artistic works, and more.

    Intellectual property rights can include copyright, patent, trademark, and industrial design rights. If there is intellectual property, the first thing you must decide as executor is whether the beneficiaries can inherit it — that is, whether it survives the decedent’s death.

    You’ll want an intellectual property attorney or an estate attorney experienced in handling intellectual property to help you with this decision and with any other issues that may arise regarding this property, including its valuation for inventory and federal estate tax purposes.

    If the decedent was a writer, he or she may have appointed you as executor of his or her estate property in general, and appointed a literary executor specifically to deal with posthumous publication of his or her work.

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