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July 24, 2012

This Just Doesn't Seem Right

The estate of modern art collector Ileana Sonnabend has a rather unique IRS problem.

In its possession is a Rauschenburg that is literally priceless.

The artist called it a "combine", and it brings together a variety of media, art supplies, scraps, miscellaneous material, and things.

One of these things is a stuffed bald eagle.

Sonnabend's heirs tasked three appraisers, including one from Christie's, to put a value on the work. Since the bald eagle, dead or alive, is under federal protection, it would be a felony to sell the work and a felony to buy it. For this reason, the appraisers reasoned that its fair market value is $0. Price, after all, is not inherent; it is a function of market behavior. In this case, that behavior is prohibited by law.

Naturally, the IRS appraised the piece itself at $65 million and penalized the estate for trying to pull a fast one.

Seems to me that a bit of planning could have prevented this situation. If the heirs can't sell it, perhaps they could lease it? It's a good thing the estate was so wealthy and able to pay (albeit by selling off much of the collection).

Imagine if this were the only thing your Aunt Mildred left to you; you'd be automatically on the hook for $30M and federally prohibited from raising the funds through sale.

Comments at the link are good, too.

Thanks to Gabriel Malor.


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posted by LauraW. at 01:25 PM

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