Determining the value of all the assets

4 min read

Keys to evaluating assets during probate

  • You should inventory and determine the worth of all assets as quickly as possible, as the value of real property must be assessed from the day of your loved one's death.

  • A real estate agent can help you assess a house or apartment, and you can estimate the value of a used car on a car sales site.

  • Stocks and bonds need to be valued by what they were worth on the date of the person's passing.

  • Businesses, jewelry, artworks, antiques, classic cars, and other items of high worth should be appraised by a professional. If there are many in the estate, consider an auction house or museum.

When you take on the role of executor of your loved one’s estate, you’re adding a list of financial and logistical tasks to your plate, which can feel like a lot of responsibility on top of your grief. These additional duties won’t feel so daunting, however, when you know what to expect and how to tackle the basics. 

Soon after probate begins, you will be expected to inventory and determine the value of all the probate property, so that they can be divided fairly according to the will, and so that the IRS knows the total value of the estate. Doing this valuation can sometimes bring up strong emotions. You are, after all, trying to place a concrete dollar amount on all the items that filled the life of someone you cared about very much. 

You may also be at a loss as to how, exactly, you are supposed to determine what things are worth. Fortunately, with the help of experts and a little know-how, it isn’t too complex. 

One important note: It’s imperative to assess the value of these assets as soon as possible after your loved one passes away, because any real property (e.g. real estate, vehicles, and personal property) will need to be appraised based on a “date of death” valuation. Each of these assets should be valued at what it was worth on the day of your loved one’s passing.

Evaluating real estate and vehicles

The most common items whose value will need to be determined are real estate properties and vehicles. For real estate, you can enlist a real estate agent to provide you with an estimation of the property value based on the state of the market and recent sales of similar homes in the area. Along with this estimation, you’ll also want to record the equity in the house, which will be available from the mortgage lender.  

Vehicles fall into two categories: antiques and typical used cars. Typical used cars can be evaluated easily on car sales websites like Kelley Blue Book. If your loved one was still making payments on the car, the remaining balance should be recorded; it will count toward the debts of the estate. For antique cars, you’ll want to seek out an expert appraiser.

Evaluating stocks, investments, and businesses 

If your loved one had investments, those will also count toward the overall value of the estate. Any given stock’s value is determined by what it was worth on the day that your loved one died, so you’ll want to check the average of the highest and lowest price from that day (you can find this on any stock tracking website or through the firm that managed their account). 

Bonds are valued through a similar process, but you’ll also need to add any accrued interest that was due on them but had not been paid out at the time of your loved one’s death. For annuities, you’ll need to contact the institution that sold them and get the value, also determined by that day.

A stock’s value should be determined by what it was worth on the day that your loved one passed away.

Businesses, because they often involve multiple kinds of assets like inventory and real estate, often owned in partnership with others, need a professional appraisal.  

Evaluating other personal property

Artwork, jewelry, antiques, and valuable collectibles will also need to be appraised. For large estates with many such items, you may want to find an auction house, art museum, or professional appraiser to provide you with an estimate of the overall value. These services often come with a high price tag, but can be very helpful if you’re feeling overwhelmed. You also might want to negotiate to pay the appraiser by time spent and not a percentage of value, if you can. 

However, in most cases, your loved one only had one or a few of these valuable items. If you only have a short list, you can consult similar items on open-market auction sites like eBay to give you an idea of the value.  

Keep in mind, items that have a lot of sentimental value may not have much monetary value, so even though they are very important to you, they may not need professional appraisal.

Gathering an overall value of all the property a loved one has collected over a lifetime isn’t an easy task for anyone, much less someone who is grieving and has other executor duties on their plate. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends and family while you’re cataloging and evaluating during the process. And remember to pay attention to your emotional well-being and balance the bureaucratic responsibilities with your need to honor and mourn your loved one.

You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.