When I learned that my late grandfather had left me his prized watch in his will, I was swept away by a confusing mix of emotions.
I felt touched, of course, that he thought of me and wanted me to inherit something he treasured so highly. Naturally, I also felt a pang of melancholy realizing that the watch came loaded with memories of his vibrant life, but also his passing.
The more surprising emotion, however, was stress. Did I really deserve this watch? What would I do with something so valuable? Would he expect me to wear it? What if I lost it? Am I allowed to sell it?
According to CNBC, around 40% of America’s young generation will inherit wealth. Much of the time, that wealth will come in the form of physical valuables like watches, jewelry, clothing, art, and collections.
If you’ve inherited something valuable or think you might in the future, you might already be facing the confusing mix of emotions that I went through. That’s why I felt inspired to write this piece. Despite the fact that millions of young people will inherit valuables, there’s not a lot of material out there to help us not only appraise and sell the items but get comfortable with the idea of selling in the first place.
Process those complex emotions and decide if selling is right for you
When I received my grandfather’s watch, I found myself in a similar headspace as Frodo when he inherited The One Ring. Staring down at our newfound jewelry, the hairy-footed hobbit and I both realized three things:
- It’s valuable.
- I don’t exactly know why it was given to me.
- I probably shouldn’t tell anyone that I have it.
Naturally, Frodo and I both reached the same, misguided conclusion – that we should hide it and never speak of it again. This, of course, was the wrong choice; basically, a form of procrastination until we figured out what to do with it.
Whereas Frodo eventually threw his inheritance into a volcano, that isn’t really an option for you and me. We know that whoever left us the item wouldn’t have wanted us to just bury it in our linen closet, so that leaves us with two choices: use it or sell it.
Most people assume that if their late relative left them something valuable, it’s because they wanted them to use it and enjoy it as they did in life. Therefore, if you immediately turn around and sell it, it’s like returning their thoughtful Christmas gift to the store. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, and the fact that it’s your inheritance makes it feel even worse.
However, while it’s possible that your late relative wanted you to enjoy whatever they left you, it’s important to distinguish the difference between inheritances and gifts.
Inheritances are not gifts
A gift is something that someone gives you with the full intent that you’ll use it and benefit from it. Therefore, if you return a gift to the store, it signals to the gift-giver that they missed the mark. That’s why we do it in secret.
An inheritance, however, is a form of wealth transfer. Your late relative may have intended for you to use and enjoy the item, or they may have fully intended for you to just sell it and benefit financially.
The difference between an inheritance and a gift, therefore, is the intent of the giver. A gift is always meant to be kept, while an inheritance is meant to be kept or sold.
If an inheritance is meant to be sold, why not just sell it and leave the money in the will? Well, most people don’t sell their valuables in their twilight years; they enjoy them in life and let the next generation decide what to do with them.
How do I know whether my late relative intended for me to keep or sell my inheritance? It’s impossible to say. There’s no statistic that says “XX% of baby boomers intend for their grandchildren to sell their inherited valuables,” and even if there was, everyone’s situation is different.
There are signs, however – if your late relative left you an extensive art collection for your 500 sq. ft. apartment, they probably intended for you to just sell it. If they left you their wedding ring and they know you’re about to get engaged, it’s a safe bet that they want you to use it.
But even if you conclude your late relative probably wanted you to keep your inherited valuables, it’s still OK to sell them.
Here’s why you shouldn’t feel guilty selling your inherited valuables
Inheritances can come in countless forms, from real estate to trust funds to diamond earrings. They can be intended for the recipient to keep or to sell, or anything in-between.
But regardless of their form or surface-level intent, the underlying intent of all inheritances is exactly the same: whoever left it to you wants you to prosper and be happy.
Your goal, then, is to handle your inheritance in a way that honors your late relative’s underlying wish: to make you happy. Keeping it and enjoying it might honor that wish, but so could selling the item and investing the money so you can achieve financial independence faster.
For instance, you could consider a robo-advisor with a lower buy-in like Betterment. Betterment stands out with an easy-to-use platform, a generous selection of Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) opportunities, and the ability to access a human advisor once your balance exceeds $100,000.
Putting your money into an investment opportunity can do a lot more for you than keeping the gift in a box at the bottom of your dresser for years.
Protect the item from theft, damage, and depreciation
Before you get your inherited valuable appraised and sold, you need to educate yourself on how to store it, protect it, and overall preserve its value.
For example, I inherited a rare Japanese teapot from a grandparent a few years ago valued at around $100. Because I love tea so much, I decided to classify this inheritance as a “keep.” However, because I never taught myself how to properly maintain such a fancy teapot, I let water sit in it for too long and rust it. Totaled and worthless, the teapot now sits in my kitchen as an ignominious reminder to not be a lazy knucklehead with my valuables.
The first step to inheriting something valuable, then, is to teach yourself how to use it, maintain it, and store it. Teapots may need special cleaning; art may need to be stored in a cool, dark location; leather goods need routine conditioning; watches may need winding, etc.
In tandem with proper care and maintenance, you’ll want to keep your valuables someplace safe. Even if your renters insurance has adequate theft protection to cover the value of your goods, you still run the risk of the claim being rejected or getting paid less than the item’s market value.
For small items like watches, jewelry, or card/coin collections, consider renting a safety deposit box at a local bank. $60 per year is a small price to pay for peace of mind!
For medium-sized items like artwork or furniture, your first inclination might be to borrow space in a friend or family member’s basement or attic. After all, a giant painting is probably too big to steal!
Storing valuable art/furniture in a basement or attic is a common mistake, however, because these areas are subject to moisture and variable temperatures, which can damage and devalue your stuff. Consider renting a climate-controlled storage unit instead, and look for one outside the city limits where it’s cheaper.
Lastly, if you inherit something really big like a car, you’ll want to protect it from the elements by parking it in a covered space or at least investing ~$250 in a fitted car cover. Since you’ll inevitably have to drive it, you’ll want to get some cheap collision and comprehensive coverage, too, which will also protect it against damage and theft. That may all sound expensive, but keep in mind that you’ll get it back when you sell it.
Big or small, once you have your inherited valuables safely stored and protected, it’s time to see what they’re worth.
Appraise the item
Before getting a professional appraisal, you can get a rough idea of how much your inherited valuable is worth by heading to eBay.
Don’t pay too much attention to asking prices in active listings. Sellers can ask for whatever they want; doesn’t mean it’ll sell.
For a better idea of your item’s true market value, filter by SOLD listings only. You can do this by searching for your item, then clicking “Advanced”
Then check the box for “Sold listings”
In this example, you can see that in general, vintage Gucci bags are selling for anywhere from $300 to $500.
eBay is an excellent self-appraisal tool, but you can also get a more accurate appraisal from a site dedicated to reselling your specific goods.
For example, I got my grandfather’s watch appraised at Precision Watches & Jewelry and Crown & Caliber – both were entirely online, requiring only a description and serial number.
For cars, I recommend using Edmunds’ True Market Value (TMV) Tool. It’s entirely free and can give you a realistic valuation of your inherited car in seconds. If you’re thinking of keeping the car your late relative left you, you can research its True Cost to Own (TCO) to know how much it’ll cost you in depreciation, gas, maintenance, repairs, insurance, etc. If you decide to sell the car, well, you can do that on Edmunds, too!
For art, furniture, and other assets that might prove difficult to appraise online, you can connect with a live appraiser. The American Society of Appraisers has an online directory where you can search for and connect with an appraiser of your goods in your area. Most appraisals cost ~$150 or less, and it’s worth it so you don’t end up underselling your stuff!
Sell the item
Your penultimate step, of course, is to make the sale.
Whoever appraised your item will also have tips for how and where to sell it. They’ll likely make an offer themselves; if so, just be sure to get multiple appraisals online to ensure you’re getting a good deal.
At the risk of sounding lecture-y, just be sure you follow the essentials of selling a high-value item; ship the item well-packed and well-insured, and if you meet anyone in-person, bring a friend and meet somewhere safe. Lastly, be sure the buyer brings cash or cash equivalents, such as Venmo or PayPal, so you receive your full asking price onsite.
I got some cold feet before selling my grandpa’s watch and you might, too. It helped to remind myself that my grandpa didn’t necessarily want me to wear his fancy watch; just to do something with it that made me happy. My grandpa was smart with money and achieved financial independence early in life, and would surely want the same for me. Therefore, I knew that if he saw me sell his watch and invest the money wisely, he’d be proud.
If you use the money from your inherited valuable to inch closer to freedom, happiness, and financial independence, your late relative will likely be proud of you, too.
So make sure you park your money somewhere safe. A Chime savings account is a good example, with 0.50% APY, as well as zero hidden fees and a slick UI.
Inheriting a high-value item like a watch, jewelry, car, or even a rare piece of art can elicit a mixed bag of emotions. You may feel glad that your late relative thought of you, sad that they’re gone, and guilty that you aren’t sure what to do with the precious asset that they left you.
Selling an inherited valuable may initially feel uncomfortable, but it’s important to remember that whoever left it to us probably just wants us to be happy. Selling the item and investing the money to accelerate our financial independence is a great way to honor that wish.