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On Sports Collections, Death and Taxes

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

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Both of my parents are dead — my mom having died of cancer in 2010 and my father passing this past July.

I inherited a little money from my mom from a rogue insurance policy that she had. She was very poor her entire life. From my father, the wealthy one, I got his Vietnam War stuff. No money, no property, just some medals, pictures, and the memories of the stories I was told.

I could be honest here and say that I am a little bitter that my father cut me out. In reality, he was married four times, and I have seven half brothers and sisters from those marriages, all of whom were cut out as well. For better or worse, my father was very much the kind of man who wanted us to sink or swim in life without any of his help.

I decided when I had my kids that I wouldn’t be like that with my children. Everything I have is theirs for the taking, and how I leave things behind could serve as a guide on handling inheritance tax issues.

One thing that I have is a collection of sports memorabilia. Here is what I do in a nutshell: I watch a lot of sports. Major League Baseball memorabilia is worth the most so I focus on that by watching up to four games every day.

Each year I speculate on who will win the Rookie of the Year award. Because I mainly watch National League Baseball, early on I bought an autographed Kris Bryant rookie card for $89, two months before the 2015 Rookie of the Year was announced.

After Bryant won the award, the card’s value jumped to $199. If you are into playing the stock market, you have just doubled your money. In Las Vegas, I would stop there and get a free dinner.

However, this is a part of what I am leaving to my kids, knowing full well that these will only go up in value. As all Chicago Cubs fans know, Bryant went on to become MVP following the team’s World Series championship win last year, and the value of his signed rookie card is only going up.

Feeling cocky, for the following year in August, I picked Corey Seager, and he was the 2016 NL Rookie of the Year. Just like the year before with Bryant, Seager’s card doubled in value.

This year I picked immediately after the All-Star break in July, which was too early. I shortlisted the candidates to Ian Happ from the Cubs and Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers. Both players’ rookie cards were bought before my usual August timeframe, and looking back now it is going to the Dodger player.

However, each was an $89 bet.

It’s not just rookie cards that I collect, but other valuable memorabilia. I set a rule that I never spend more than $200, and over the years I’ve amassed a pretty significant collection. Some are winners, while others are losers.

This all reminded me of what my kids will do when I die. Will they sell them? Or will they keep them like I did?

Let’s review my options as if I were my own client. I could simply gift these items to my kids. However, they would pick up my basis should they sell them and pay a significant capital gains tax.

The question is, do these trinkets fall into the class of collectibles where they would pay a 28 percent capital gain?

I could just leave these to them when I die. In that case, they pick up the basis from the date of my death.

Is that the advice I would give a client sitting across the table from me? No way!

There is something in this world called divorce. Just because I don’t believe in it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

The advice to my client would be that if the intent is to have your kids inherit these collections, then put them into a trust for the kids — a revocable trust with them as beneficiaries, or irrevocable. A trust would be the way to go.

An irrevocable trust, for you astute readers, would protect them from a divorce, whereas a revocable wouldn’t. Furthermore, a revocable trust would have smaller tax consequences but not legally protect them. Irrevocable would mean having more tax consequences but also enjoying legal shelter from divorce and creditors.

We have to remember that in giving our advice not everyone is like us. And we all know that the worst thing that you can do is give a client bad advice and then have it come back to bite you a few years down the line.

Developing long-term client relationships helps you learn their “outliers” so you can find out what sets them apart — then you’ll give them better advice.


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