Managing An Artist's Estate After They Are Gone

blog Jun 05, 2023

Many family members of artists find themselves with a new full-time job if not a full second career when the artist in the family passes away and no concrete plans were made to deal with not only the artwork left behind but also the artist’s reputation and market.

Joining me today is Kelly Juhasz, principal of Fine Art Appraisal and Services, who will talk to us about dealing with the estates of artists and the services her company provides around legacy planning for artists. 

Larissa: Why is this an important topic?

Kelly: Larissa, I’ve worked with numerous families of artists who find themselves in a situation whereby they are suddenly the caretaker of hundreds of pieces of artwork created by a parent or grandparent or a spouse or aunt or uncle. The burden this can bring to one or multiple members of a family can be overwhelming and have significant expenses, taxes or revenue implications not to mention emotional  and moral challenges.

Larissa: Kelly, you’re a fine art advisor and qualified appraiser. What have you noticed in your company when working with the families of artists?

Kelly: Firstly Larissa, let me just qualify that I’m not a lawyer or an accountant. I am a qualified appraiser and fine art consultant and I work with other legal and tax specialists when necessary. So today, I won’t talk about any formal legal entities that are available to support an artist’s legacy such as a foundation, formal estate or trust or a private museum. Nor will I talk about the tax advantages or disadvantages associated with those different options.

I would like to focus on some of the more practical issues and tasks that families face when dealing with the legacy and artwork left behind of an artist with some notoriety in the art market. And an artist that didn’t plan for their own legacy.

Larissa: We’re doing a second part to this interview dealing with how artists can better prepare for their legacy and the management of their remaining artwork. 

Kelly: Yes. For this segment, I’m going to focus on a private administration of an artist’s estate whereby the family members are involved.

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure to work with numerous family members of artists and have helped them manage the artworks left in the studio along with archival documents such as photographs, sketchbooks and notebooks, libraries, letters and correspondence, exhibition catalogues and other pieces of ephemera belonging to the artist.

In each case where I’ve been called in, there has been hundreds of pieces of artwork to be handled. Most cases, the artwork has been left to them and they find themselves not knowing what to do next.

Only half of our legacy clients have had knowledge in the art markets. The other half didn’t. And we saw numerous mistakes from both groups in documenting the artwork, pricing the artwork and promoting the artist.

Larissa: What do family members need to know about working with the legacy of a family member artist?

Kelly: There are many aspects that family members need to consider.

Emotional Commitment

When the families are involved, it can be very emotional for members. It may even become suffocating in that the family member may feel that they are not living their own life. There is a moral responsibility to honor the artist through his/her legacy. This isn’t always easy.

Time Commitment

The time required to administer an estate and complete all the functions necessary is a substantial commitment and can become overwhelming for family members. They may start out thinking that they can handle the workload and be extremely motivated. However, when the time and resources start getting more in depth, that motivation may ware off. 

Specialized Knowledge

Managing an artist’s estate requires business acumen and professionalism. It requires knowledge of the art markets, fine art itself and knowledge of the artist. Are all family members equipped for this? Doing this work successfully requires specialized knowledge in the areas of:

  • Artist and his/her body of work
  • Of archiving and cataloguing rules and methodologies
  • Academic and museum worlds
  • Art market partners of dealers and auction houses for sales
  • Estate, contract Law and tax law
  • Finance and management know-how
  • Conservation and storage of the artwork
  • Copyright and licensing options for artwork images

It’s a lot to be able to do if you haven’t been already involved or had training in all of these areas.


Some family members believe that all the artwork left in the estate are good pieces by the artist or that the works should be sold at a higher value than what the market may be willing to pay. So, issues can arise.

Some family members believe that their work will pay off financially yet, the artist may or may not have a solid market presence when they passed. Their rewards may not materialize.

The family management can also be biased and lose the objectivity required to make sound decisions.

Financial Resources

Financial resources are important. Is funding available from the artist directly or his/her surviving dependents to support legacy activities?

Many artists and their descendants many find themselves rich with art but cash poor.

So, there are numerous considerations to think about and questions that the family member or members who have been left the responsibility for the artwork and the artist’s reputation need to ask? The biggest one is Do I have the will and capacity to take this on. Or should I look to work with a professional who can direct me and our family with all these tasks.

Larissa: What are these specific tasks that need to be done in order to build and protect the legacy and artwork of an artist?

Kelly: There are actually quite a few tasks that need to happen depending on the artist’s career and past achievements. These include:

  • exhibiting artworks publicly,
  • lending artworks to museums and other institutions,
  • donating artworks to museums and other institutions,
  • creating a database that could be transitioned into a catalogue raisonne or support a third-party to create a catalogue or book,
  • providing access to archival materials and specific works of art for research,
  • publishing articles about the artist and the artworks,
  • providing storage management for the artworks,
  • positioning or repositioning the artist in the context of his/her peers, and
  • selling the artwork.

Larissa: Kelly, your company, Fine Art Appraisal and Services, offers legacy management services. What do you look for in taking on a legacy client?

Kelly: There are numerous benefits for independent professional management. These include:

  • a deep knowledge and the ability to balance between academics, exhibitions and sales,
  • long-term vision and adequate planning,
  • economies of scale in terms of management fees whereby the family can structure and benefit from being managed by a firm with more than one artist estates to administer.

Ideally, we look for artist’s legacies that can be managed or developed over a medium to long term period and that already has funding or has the potential to easily cover expenses including the management fees.

There are numerous ways to manage an artist’s estate. At Fine Art Appraisal and Services, we typically have been working directly with the families of the artists in a joint partnership. But it depends on the formal set up of the estate and how involved family members want to be.

We work with the family members to review the bigger picture and create a plan with specific goals and expectations. We develop that plan around the resources available and the level of work the artist’s legacy will require to achieve the goals.

Larissa: How does this service benefit the artist or their family?

Kelly: For the family or the artist directly, we provide expert art market and collection management advice that:

  • allows for better decision-making on behalf of family members,
  • ensures proper care of the artwork, and
  • allows for correct assessments of the marketplace to maintain value and presence of the artist.

Often dealing with the artwork of a loved-one brings up sensitive family matters and complex family history and relationships. We help to provide objectivity by bringing the attention and focus back to the artwork and a clear set of objectives and goals.

Larissa: What practical tasks can the families of artists do to get ready or start building the artist’s legacy?


  • Start to locate all the artwork and papers of the artist. Are they spread out between family members or are they located in the artist’s home, basement, attic or spread out with friends?
  • Discuss why the artist and their work should be remembered. Discuss what was important to the artist and how he/she would like to be remembered.
  • Review what kind of budget can be committed to the project.
  • Locate past sales records and exhibition dates and locations.
  • Call in a professional to help with understanding this process and to determine whether or not the family members or member has the resources and knowledge to do this on their own.

This would be a good starting point.

Larissa: Are you available for artists and artist’s family members to reach out to you for preliminary discussions?

Kelly: Yes, certainly. We are always available to assist and answer questions. They can reach us at:


[email protected]

or call the office at 416-929-7193

Visit our website:

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