Tsunami. Hurricane. Earthquake. Civil war. Each is a disaster, with human costs beyond calculating. The destruction of material goods, however, in the form of homes, businesses, and other assets, reached $58.7 billion in 2005, according to the Insurance Information Institute’s data on insured and total catastrophe losses. Included in that incredible total are countless works of art.
What has artwork to do with the average planner’s clients? John Levitt, a licensed estate attorney and financial consultant with Professional Planning Services, LLC, of AXA Advisors in Long Island, says many of his clients’ portfolios include substantial collections. “When you’re dealing with high-net-worth clients, most people have some art. It grows sometimes larger than the rest of their portfolios,” he adds. In fact, fully 10% to 15% of those clients “have art that’s a higher proportion [of their portfolios] than it should be.”
The threat to planning? “Often clients have no insurance on the art,” says Levitt, despite sometimes allowing artwork to become “their whole nest egg.” Part of providing financial advice, he says, “is to find a way to have that asset protected.” He recalls clients who denied having substantial collections but, when asked again, admit to an accumulation, perhaps not of old masters or Romantics, but of sports or political memorabilia or toys in original boxes or wines–all worth thousands, and in need of protection.
Levitt initially got into this because of “clients who had a $6 million collection of Impressionist art.” Although they’d started collecting as a sideline, it had become the clients’ chief asset, he explains, and “they had done no planning, no wills, no insurance.” Their net worth was tied up in “an illiquid, very large asset, and for various reasons they seemed to have their heads in the sand.” When they realized it “could be wiped out at a moment’s notice,” they realized they needed to protect it.