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Determining the real value of art in a divorce

For a decade, you have collected art. Your collection has grown and the value of each piece has also gone up. You didn't necessarily do it as an investment -- you did it because you love it -- but you feel like it was a wise financial move, as well. You spent probably $5 million on the collection, but you now value it at nearly $20 million.

Here's the problem: Your spouse just filed for divorce. And the two of you don't agree on the value of the artwork at all. How are you supposed to split it up?

High-asset cases

These types of conflicts happen often in high-asset divorce cases. For instance, one couple estimated that their art could be worth billions when they split up. With the value that high, their legal teams literally found themselves "hundreds of millions of dollars apart."

We are not talking about a casual difference, here. A vast amount of your estate could get tied up in whether your art collection is worth what you think it's worth.

For instance, maybe you actually think that the artwork is worth the $5 million you invested in it. Your spouse, though, argues that it's worth $20 million.

Why the difference? You may suspect that they're doing it just to get more of your other assets. If you get to keep the art collection, valuing it at $15 million more could mean they can take the family home, vacation home and other assets that have a relatively equal value. They simply get less if the value comes in lower. It's in their favor to inflate the estimate; it's in your favor to keep it as low as you can.

Don't use estimates

Much of the time, the trouble comes with estimates. Even if you are an art collector and a self-taught expert in this space, you may not want to use estimates at all. What you need is an official art appraiser who can tell you what the collection is really worth.

After all, the value of art is somewhat subjective. It's worth what someone will pay for it. Has that value gone up since you bought it? How far? Has it actually gone down? If you put it up for auction today, what could you realistically expect?

That doesn't mean you actually have to sell it -- though some couples do -- but you do need to know what experts think it would sell for.

The process

As you can see, divorce can be complex and you do not want to lose out on what you rightfully deserve. Make sure you know how this process works and what rights you have.

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