Managing an estate can be complicated and overwhelming, but libraries can often be sources of hidden value, and thus should not be ignored. There's always a chance that tucked away in that library are a few rare first editions or hard-to-find antique items. But if you're facing hundreds of volumes and you have little experience with books, where do you start?
Libraries and rare books may not be your idea of a good inheritance, but they can actually be hidden treasures if you do your research. A recent JD Supraarticle, titled “California Estate Planning: What to Do if You Inherit a Library,” warns against failing to value books that are left as part of an estate.
You never know if the library has tucked away an inscribed first edition of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Ernest Hemingway. That’s going for $8,500 on Ebay right now. Or maybe a signed J.D. Salinger “The Catcher in The Rye.” Asking price for this is only $55,000 these days. These rare first editions or hard-to-find antique items are out there. If you are left with the responsibility of sorting through a collection containing hundreds of volumes, and you have little experience with books, where do you start?
An experienced estate planning attorney should be able to help you. In addition, you can start be doing some of the preliminary research yourself. Websites such as www.Abebooks.com and www.AddALL.com are extremely detailed and gather data from numerous book sites. There is also the American Book Prices Current database (www.bookpricescurrent.com). This is a valuable tool that about every professional bookseller in North America knows and uses. This database shows you if a book has sold at auction in the past.
If you don’t have the time to catalog and research all those hundreds of book titles and ISBN numbers on a website or go through entire libraries by hand, consult an experienced rare book dealer. He or she can quickly identify rare or unusual items in your library and estimate their worth by taking into account the rarity of a book, its condition, and the book’s provenance (its ownership history).
According to the original article, most rare book dealers are happy to buy books and libraries, as some will want to make you an offer on the most valuable titles. So don’t discount a library collection bequeathed to you in an estate—Earnest or J.D. may be hiding in there somewhere.
Reference: JD Supra (November 3, 2014) “California Estate Planning: What to Do if You Inherit a Library”