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From our Partners at Westbury: What can artists do to preserve their art for future generations


This article was written by Keith Graham, Partner at Westbury Accountants and Business Advisors, AWAD’s Partner in this field


  1. What will happen to my art after my death?
  2. How can I ensure my family benefit from my lifelong work?
  3. Will my art retain its value?
  4. Who will manage my collection?


These and others are the sort of questions that we are being asked increasingly by our many artist clients. Of course, there are many advantages to becoming successful as an artist but success brings with it a whole new set of challenges.

What to do with your art?

In our experience, once artists begin to think about their own mortality, they become increasingly concerned with the question of what to do with their art. Many think that this is something that could be dealt with just by a well-drafted will; others wonder whether they should be setting up a foundation during their lifetime.

What is clear is that these questions have to be faced up to. Picasso died without a will leaving a legacy of massive legal battles. Dalí set up a foundation but his affairs were still extremely untidy. Rothko left clear instructions but his executors certainly did not understand fully (or chose not to) his real wishes. On the other hand, the Henry Moore Foundation is an excellent example of careful planning and competent management of an estate.

Fundamental Questions

Amongst the fundamental questions that we find require consideration before any action is taken are:-

  • Are there works that the artist wishes never to be sold but to remain within his family?
  • To what extent is the family to benefit financially either by keeping art or by benefiting from the sale proceeds?
  • Does the artist wish to set up a foundation during his lifetime and oversee the establishment of the long-term preservation of his art?
  • If the art is to be sold over a period, who will handle that?
  • Who will be executors of the will? Who will administer the art? If there is to be a foundation, who will be the trustees?
  • What are the tax implications and will that influence the decision-making process?
  • If the artist has earmarked certain institutions that are to benefit from the art, will those institutions actually want the art and to the extent desired by the artist? Is it worth opening up discussions with the institution prior to death?
  • Are there certain dealers whom the artist would like to be employed after death to manage the sale?
  • How will management of the estate be funded? -Professional fees, insurance, storage,shipping.
  • To aid matters should there be a catalogue raisonné?

One of the great uncertainties both from a tax perspective and in terms of determining the destination of art is its uncertain value and that is why the selection of appropriate people to manage an estate is crucial.

In our experience, many artists have not addressed these issues to the extent that they deserve and the establishment of organisations like The Institute for Artists’ Estates can only help this process.

Contact us

Get in touch with us if you would like to discuss this subject with our specialist Art Partner Keith Graham.

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