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The process of valuing and dividing unusual assets

Getting divorced often involves some difficult decisions. You and your spouse need to determine how to divide your assets, the terms of custody and visitation, and proper amounts for child and even spousal support. For many couples, asset division can be a sticking point that leads to a protracted court battle.

If you don't agree to fairly divide your possessions and assets, the courts can and will step in to make that decision for you. The goal is equitable distribution, but achieving it requires accurate values for your assets.

When that happens, you have to present the courts with a list of all your assets and their fair market value. In some cases, like retirement accounts, putting a value on and dividing an asset is relatively straightforward. However, more unusual assets, like unimproved land, fine art, memorabilia and collectibles, and even antiques, can be a difficult and complicated process. If you and your ex can't agree on how much certain items are worth, what should you do?

Outside professionals can place fair prices on most assets

There is a range of professionals whose jobs include evaluating and pricing unusual assets. From real estate appraisers to auction-house experts, there are knowledgeable individuals who understand fair pricing for just about every kind of asset. Hiring these professionals to assess a valuable collection or review the potential sale price of a plot of land can make valuing your assets much simpler.

There are costs involved, but if a substantial amount of your income has gotten tied up in unusual assets, having a verifiable, outside professional help with valuing the items can more than pay for itself. Using a paid professional helps avoid claims from your spouse that you are intentionally over- or under-valuing certain items and makes it easier for the courts to move forward with asset division.

Know what was paid and how that price may have changed

In some cases, you may not be able to find or hire a professional to place a price on an item, like an original painting. When that happens, you can look to the original cost of an item as a starting point. From there, you need to carefully consider appreciation or potential depreciation. For example, if you purchased many acres of vacant land during the housing collapse of 2008, those acres could be worth substantially more now than they were worth when bought.

Classic cars are another great example. Most new cars depreciate substantially after purchase, but classic cars retain high values because of their perceived worth by enthusiasts. Researching online to see what similar items commonly sell for can help you create a more accurate inventory of assets and ensure a division process that is fairer to all involved.

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