WILL I ….. OR WON’T I ?!
I have written about this in the past, but it is a message well worth repeating.
I bought five large Estate collections during the past month, and in all cases
the deceased had left no guidance whatever to the family as to
material should be offered.
If you have some spare time on your hands over the next week, you really should
read the following very carefully, as it truly concerns each and every reader.
A local TV program bought my attention to that fact that a vast number of
Australians die without leaving a legal last Will and Testament.
Roughly half of all Australians die intestate. That is, they die without leaving
a valid, Legal Will. I have no doubt similar figures apply to British and
American readers. Naturally, none of us wishes to die unexpectedly - but we are
all mortal, and accidents happen every day.
Less than 50% of Australians prepare a legal Will, often in the mistaken belief
that all their worldly goods and chattels will automatically go to their next of
kin. Without a Will, the Government may levy death duties and the Government
also decides on the distribution of the assets.
You may wish to make a bequest to a friend or relative to acknowledge a special
relationship. There may be items of sentimental or monetary value that you wish
to give to a specific person. You may wish to leave a portion of your estate to
a favourite charity, institution or cause. Unless this is specified in a Will it
will likely NOT occur.
Prudence and common sense dictates that we prepare our families against any such
eventuality. I did some further research, and was astounded to learn that some
42 per cent of Adult citizens of Victoria do NOT have a Will.
These figures were compiled by the Victorian Manager of ANZ Bank Trustees. As
Victoria has the highest number of stamp collectors AND stamp dealers in
Australia (by a long way) this figure is very significant to this article.
Even accepting many adults do not make any kind of Will, I’m darned sure that
90% of those who DO have wills and are connected with stamps, even when dealers,
do NOT make any specific written arrangements as to the disposal of their stamps
upon death. Be honest think about your own situation .... How do YOU score
Sometimes, a family member is also keen on philately, and stamps are passed on
to that person, which is a sensible option, but clearly if that person
eventually dies without a will the same situation exists. The reality is that
countless thousands of Australian collectors die every year, leaving absolutely
NO guidance to their non-collecting families as to their specific wishes re the
Often a collector will spend many thousands of hours over a lifetime buying,
mounting, studying, sorting and enjoying their stamps. It really does seem odd
to me that they can’t bother taking just an hour of this time to briefly outline
instructions for their eventual disposal.
$10,000 for $1000
To ensure readers dwell on this topic a little longer, let me relate a totally
true story. I received a phone call from a second-hand furniture ‘bric-a-brac’
type storeowner I know. This was to indicate a bulky stamp collection had been
purchased in a complete ‘household effects’ type of deal.
This accumulation ‘owed’ the store owner $1,000 and ‘did I want to take it off
his hands??’ Knowing how cheaply this chap purchased most things, I was
immediately interested, and visited that afternoon. The stamps were jumbled up
in 7 large cartons.
Untidily arranged in albums, stockbooks, packets, tins etc - exactly as removed
from the deceased collector’s ‘stamp den’. I looked quickly through the first
two albums (Great Britain), and the asking figure of $1,000 was easily
surpassed, with nearly 7 cartons to go!
I told ‘Mr. Bric-A-Brac’ there was certainly some nice material here, and
casually checked he was asking only $1,000 for the lot. He just smiled, and said
something like if I knew what HE had paid for it all, I’d probably be
embarrassed to hand over as much as $1,000!
This brings me to the point of this article. After lugging home the 7 cartons
and breaking it down into lots for my Internet ads, it became quickly apparent a
collector with whom I’d dealt extensively by mail for well over a decade had
formed the collection.
Quite a few stamps and sets were still in stockcards and glassines with my name
printed on them. Had I been called in by the man’s family and asked to price the
Estate, I can honestly say that the price offered would have been many, many,
many times more than I paid the smiling ‘bric-a-brac man’, and yet I’d still
have made a nice profit, instead of a simply obscene profit.
The family lost around $10,000, purely and simply because that collector didn’t
nominate in his Will that myself, or indeed one of this many other dealer
contacts, be called in to quote or advise on the dispersion of the collection.
This scenario is not unique - EVERY large dealer anywhere in the world can tell
you similar stories of buying material ‘for a song’ via similar channels, when
they in fact have supplied a good part of it themselves, at their normal retail
Having read all the above, why not take some time this winter to think a little
about your own situation, and ask ‘what will happen to my stamps if I pass away
unexpectedly?’ I’m darn sure no-one reading this would enjoy the thought of a
lifetime of collecting being ‘given away’ simply because your family has no idea
of a reliable person or firm to approach.
In my long experience 95% of collectors are MALE, and they often advise their
families, and wife in particular, that stamps are a low cost pastime, with
little or no “real” money ever being spend on them.
These same clients quietly spend $1000’s a year with me, and goodness knows what
with other dealers and auctions. The number of orders I ship Registered mail to
business addresses, and get paid by business credit cards for this precise
reason, would astound many readers!
I’m just as often paid in ‘cash’ via Money Order or bank transfer using cash,
for the same reasons. The buyers go to great pains to ensure the ‘good lady’
doesn’t realise that each month a $250 CTO 5/- Sydney Harbour Bridge, or a 1988
Year album, set of 1994 P.N.G. overprints, or a ‘Penny Black’ etc, is being
quietly purchased. I’m certain EVERY large dealer and Auction house in the world
will have many clients doing precisely the same thing.
This is WHY absurdly low ‘bric-a-brac Man’ offers are frequently accepted by
widows and families. ‘George did say he never spent any money on them, so I
suppose $200 is a fair enough offer’ scenario. For a lifetime they have heard
George stress: ‘the stamps are of little value’, or: ‘I only collect the cheap
ones, for the fun of it’ etc.
In view of the above, please give some serious thought to leaving a precise note
among your personal papers, or with your Solicitor, or better still in your
Will. Simply advise precisely how you wish your material disposed of in the
event of your death.
If you are lazy, why not at least tear out this page, and leave that with your
papers, which will serve as a warning to the family not to accept the local
second-hand dealer’s offer at least!
Either way, you owe it to your family to do something positive. Often the dealer
or Auction house from whom you mostly purchase will be precisely aware of the
special value of any unusual or specialist items you have.
Often your wife or husband will have met or spoken to your most usual suppliers,
which makes the process a lot easier after a bereavement, rather than dealing
with a totally unknown person or firm selected from the local Yellow Pages or
Likewise for stamp DEALERS. They have stocks that typically run into $100,000’s,
and frequently millions of value. I have specifically noted in my Will a trusted
colleague to be engaged by the Executor to lot and sell my stock to best effect.
I have instructed in writing that he be paid his usual hourly rate and all
expenses connected with the work. You’d be amazed how few dealers make ANY such
arrangement, and likewise often receive a fraction of the true value of their
You may wish your collection to be auctioned, instead of being sold direct to
one dealer. With both buyer and seller commissions now universal (and often GST
and other taxes involved) this frequently involves the Estate receiving about
40% less than the Auction buyer pays, who are often dealers anyway.
The time lag from lodging auction lots to receiving payment can be as long as 6
months, often not a suitable option when an Estate is being wound up. However if
Auction is your choice, why not specify a specific reputable firm you wish to
handle the material.
Specialist Europe will clearly do best in a European venue. Top quality USA will
DEFINITELY bring highest prices in that market. Quality British Commonwealth
generally does best in London, and of course, rare Pacific material will often
do very best on the Australasian market.
The strength or weakness of currencies at any given time is also a big factor
with auctioning overseas. And be warned, shipping charges and insurance of heavy
sendings to any country overseas can be astronomical. For anyone mailing stamps
to an Australian dealer or Auction GST can be assessed at ENTRY on their deemed
value of the stamps.
There are literally thousands of stamp auction houses worldwide, so it may be
worth nominating a local dealer colleague or friend to be retained by the estate
as an agent to lot, record and dispatch material to the appropriate auctions.
Remember if your stamps are sold direct to an Australia dealer there in NO GST
deducted or allowed for as long as these are a bona fide hobby collection. Your
beneficiaries may be offered $100,000 for them and if so there is no GST
whatever involved in that figure.
Any member of dealer associations can do the work above for a nominal hourly fee
charge. Most large dealers are members of trade bodies. They are obliged to act
with total integrity via the strict Code Of Ethics imposed by their own national
Some years ago I dispersed, as a paid agent, a lovely Estate collection for a
farmer at remote Warrumbungle NSW. Stamps were sent to six different Auctions in
six different countries, and realised nett to the owner some $A50,000. At the
time it was a huge sum of money.
A leading International auction house in Sydney (no longer running sales in
Australia) had literally offered him $1,000 cash for the lot! The owner was able
to use the proceeds to literally avoid the bank foreclosing on his large farming
property. It is a happy story, and a totally true one.
This is well worth considering if your collection contains unusual areas of
specialisation. Remember - an established dealer is able to arrange all carriage
and insurance and all customs and tax paperwork etc, which are areas that daunt
most members of the public, unfamiliar with such matters.
Reminding ourselves of our mortality is never a happy experience, but good
common sense dictates it MUST be addressed. I do hope some readers take steps to
ensure their philatelic pride and joy does NOT end up in the local ‘bric-a-brac’
shop for a ‘song’ in the event of their passing.
Why not make avoiding this situation your No#1 ‘Must Do’ resolution??? You can
of course prepare your own will but this is not a great idea as the smallest
wording errors may make it legally invalid.
And the American Bar Association for US readers markets a
fine handbook illustrated nearby for only $US10.40.
As a personal comment I would advise you go visit a solicitor experienced in
Wills. I paid only $A150
for mine, which is reasonably complex - and that
the best $150 I spent all year. What value do
you place on peace of mind?