Help clients preserve wealth by getting valuables appraised.

Appraisals can be critical in protecting the monetary value of clients' most cherished possessions, but it often takes an alert advisor to suspect one is needed. Clients' interests and passing remarks sometimes can provide clues that will lead an advisor to provide the right guidance.

For Peter C. Walls, an advisor and CFP designee with Prudential Securities in Richmond, Va., a remark about his watch put him on the trail to recommending an appraisal. "I've got a client in Fredericksburg, Va., and just as part of a review we were doing, he noted I was wearing a Rolex watch. He said his father had left him several when he passed away. He went upstairs and brought down probably half a dozen antique Rolex watches. [The client] kept them in a box in his house, and he had no idea what they were worth," Walls says.

Walls was concerned because he knew that many standard homeowners policies have relatively low limits on what they will pay when valuables such as jewelry or art works are lost or stolen. "I told him, 'We really need to get someone to take a look at them. If monetarily they are important to you, we need an evaluation done and you need a separate insurance rider,'" Walls recalls.

Through another client, Walls located an appraiser in the Richmond area who specializes in Rolex watches. The appraiser valued the collection at about $20,000.

Advisors note appraisals can be very important for insurance and estate purposes, but many clients don't realize they need them. Iris Mack Dayoub, owner of Alpha Financial Management Inc. in Savannah, Ga., says her comprehensive, fee-only approach leads her to learn as much as she can about clients. "I question them about their assets and liabilities, and we find out about the things they have, especially if they have heirlooms," says Dayoub. "I have this one client whose husband had retired from the military. They were quite elderly, and they had a collection of art from all over the world. Sculptures and paintings and that sort of thing. I realized they didn't have any idea of what it was worth, and they needed to know that." She recommended a certified appraiser, who valued the collection at $1.2 million.

Appraisals also can be critical in divorces, too, and the reason isn't always to establish a higher value on items. Frances W. Russell, a CFP and attorney for law firm Williams Mullen in Virginia Beach, Va., remembers a divorce case in which a client's husband argued her jewelry was worth the $100,000 that she paid for it. Russell suspected it was not because a lot of new jewelry actually depreciates in value after it's purchased. As it turned out, Russell was right-an appraiser both sides had agreed upon put a fair-market value on the jewelry of only $50,000. As a result, the wife got more money in the divorce settlement.

Renee N. Vara, a national fine arts specialist for The Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, says updated appraisals help preserve wealth. However, it may be difficult to find a qualified appraiser because the industry isn't government or legally regulated. Three organizations that certify and qualify appraisers are the Appraisers Association of America (, 212-889-5404), American Society of Appraisers, (, 800-272-8258) and The Appraisal Foundation (, 202-347-7722).

In evaluating appraisers, Vara says, advisors should look at four major elements: education, experience, examination and ethics.

The education needed can vary, depending on the appraisal specialty that's been chosen. "If a collection is silver, you don't want to send out an Old Masters specialist. It's really important to look at the collection and make sure the person has the training," she notes.

An appraiser's experience should not only be in his or her specialty, but in appraisal methodology, Vara says. "An insurance appraisal can't be used for estate purposes. Unless someone is schooled, they won't know that. An appraiser who knows what they're doing will ask, 'What's the purpose?' An estate appraisal tends to put the fair-market value a little lower. An insurance appraisal will be retail replacement value," Vara adds.