Working With Philanthropies

As an accredited appraiser with over 10 years of experience, I can say that the art world is consistently rich with new discoveries, wonderful objects, and plenty of stories to tell. Veritas Fine Art Appraisals and Consulting provides formal appraisal services for a variety of reasons, including estate planning purposes. Depending on the scenario, we work in tandem with many estate planners, philanthropic advisors, family office platforms, and, of course, with the clients themselves.

We are a full-service firm and this business model has been very successful, particularly with philanthropic / estate planning scenarios. Full-service means that Veritas has the capability of providing appraisals for a wide variety of objects. We have a team of outstanding specialists ranging from fine art, rare wines, Asian art, and rare books, to name a few. Having these specialists “under one roof” is particularly efficient for the philanthropic / estate planning professionals with whom we work. They often have projects with clients who have collections with a wide variety of objects that need to be appraised, making a full-service firm structure like ours much more efficient for them and their clients.

As accredited appraisers and specialists in our fields of expertise, we play dual roles:

  1. We are required to abide by the rules and standards set forth by the Appraisals Standards Board when carrying out our scope of work in projects and in appraisal report writing.
  2. We must maintain and continuously develop our knowledge in our field of specialty, as well as stay on top of current market trends.

It is our job to be the unbiased source of information on reporting market values.

One misconception that often arises is that we can play the role of authenticators. This is not the case. It is our job to do our homework, and, if needed, work with the client in having properties properly authenticated by the appropriate authorities. This route varies greatly depending on the object (for example, authenticating a Picasso and authenticating a Rembrandt are two very different processes) and, of course, authentication doesn’t always come into play.

antique covered blue jar with flowers

In the charitable giving platform, we work with either the client, the recipient, or the philanthropic advisor involved in the process. Sometimes we work with all three. Right now, Veritas is working in tandem with the donor and the recipient of a large Asian art collection going to a small university art museum. The success of the project lies not only in reporting accurate fair market values for each object, but in properly cataloging the collection for the recipient of the gift. As long as the appraisers are properly educated in their field of expertise (Asian art, American art, etc), then they can properly focus on the scope of work required in a philanthropic appraisal project, which is key to its success.

Lacking expertise in a particular area of specialty is a problem we have seen with appraisals. For example, our firm is currently working on a project that involves the donation of an important Dutch still-life from the 17th-century. When the clients approached us, they had inherited the piece from their parents who always told them the piece was by an unknown 17th-century Dutch painter. The perceived value was minimal. The area of Dutch still-life expertise, like many genres, is highly specialized and there are only two accepted authorities who can authenticate and properly identify the artists of these paintings. The first step we took was conveying this to the family and then reaching out to the expert to potentially gain an actual attribution on the painting. It turned out that the work was a lost piece by a very important Dutch still-life painter. This inevitably drove the market value much higher, leaving the family to decide on the next steps because their initial thoughts were a much lower value and a less historically significant piece. As an appraiser whose area of expertise is Old Master paintings, I had developed an eye to know upon seeing the piece that we needed to research the historical significance of the piece first and foremost.

So if this experience with object knowledge is lacking in appraisers in these scenarios, this can lead to obvious problems for the families and their advisors. Connoisseurship is key. It is also imperative to stay abreast as appraisers on IRS standards and requirements for estate planning / donation appraisals. If the appraiser is accredited through any of the three appraisal associations (AAA, ASA, or ISA), they will stay informed on these issues as long as they are proactive in maintaining educational requirements to maintain accreditation. For example, the IRS requires the appraiser to report their comparables for any object with a fair market value over $25,000. This number changed recently, and if the appraiser was not current on this change, the appraisal itself would likely not be accepted by the IRS. This would, of course, present a problem for the client.

In sum, in the realm of philanthropic giving, in relation to art and antique appraisals, a combination of qualified object expertise, proper appraiser accreditation, and identifying the scope of work is key. Balancing the nuances of working alongside the client and the advisors is also key, as each situation is unique.

the back of two people looking at a painting in a gallery or museum.

Since the art world is incessantly interesting, I’ll end with an interesting bit on the final result of the Dutch still-life project. After learning that the piece was indeed not only quite valuable, but also was a lost piece and carried historical significance, the family decided to donate it to a very high-profile art museum in the Netherlands. When they first start the project, the plan was to donate it to their local church. I’m pretty sure this salient example encapsulates the need to engage a qualified art appraiser in any philanthropic project. 

By Carrie Baker
Founder, Lead Appraiser
Veritas Fine Art Appraisals & Consulting