Paper. Many of us are trying to be more environmentally conscious. My office tries (as best I can) to be paperless. However, when you’re a lawyer, some things still require an original paper with signatures. So no matter how hard I try, I still end up with stacks of paper around the office.

For your estate plan, chances are you’ve got a stack of paper as well. Your will, your health care documents, your other directives. They are all likely stacked up or stored somewhere. And for now, those original papers are required when your family has to administer your estate. As much as we all hope that the estate planning system will someday move to a more modern format, it still requires paper and original signatures.

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a good story on another issue that all that paper causes. What do you do with papers that you have inherited? As the article points out, sometimes, famous people’s papers can have some real value. Maybe you’ve inherited something like that and want to donate the papers to charity for a specific reason?

What To Do If You Inherited Someone’s Archives?

If you are the one who is doing the estate plan, and you know there’s something of value in your papers, it’s a good idea to have provisions that explain this to your family. Even if it’s not groundbreaking, you may know the value of what’s in your archives better than anyone else.

First things first, don’t throw anything out. What you think is interesting or valuable may be totally different than what a professional researcher or curator may find value in. Another tip from Mr. Grant, don’t try to reorganize the archives. The original order and organization of the paper may be important to someone who is evaluating the collection.

One option that you should consider is donating the collection to a school or institution that the person had an affiliation with. Especially if they were a researcher at a university, their records could provide value. Schools may be more inclined to accept donations of archives than an art museum.

Donations to Charities

If you choose to donate the archives to a charity, there may be a tax deduction available to you. You’ll need an appraiser to determine a value, and then you’ll need to talk to your accountant about including it on your tax return. But as part of your discussion with the charity, you’ll want to make sure there is an agreement on how the archive is to be preserved. Will they be maintained in good condition? Or just thrown in a file cabinet in the basement? If you want them digitally archived, you may need to consider a donation to the charity or institution to cover the costs.

Also, if you’ll want to be able to access the archive in the future, you’ll need a plan spelled out as well. While you may not want the general public to have access to everything in the papers, some of it may be emotionally important to you or your family. And if you are going to allow the papers to be publicly viewed, you’ll want to make sure you have an agreement about those terms as well.

Finally, Mr. Grant ends with a good cautionary note,

Where donors should draw a line is at any indication that a potential recipient could consider selling valuable pieces of the collection. If there are items such as notebooks, paintings or studies that stand out from the rest of the materials and have potential market value, their sale could lessen the importance of the remaining collection. Hence, families should require that the archive remain in tact to maintain maximum interest.

Next Steps

If you don’t have a will yet, or if you have one that you may need to update to donate your archives to a charity, call my office to set up a Legal Strategy Session and we can review the best options for you – (877) AMAYERS.

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