Cremation yields about five pounds of ash. Cremains are of no commercial value, which means the brouhaha in the news recently—a woman is accused of stealing her dead sister’s ashes—centers on sentimental value. Determining the value of household items (including Grandma in her urn) comes down to three decisions.

How to Determine “Book Value”

If you have ever bought or sold a used automobile, you are familiar with the Kelley Blue Book, which appraises the “book value” of various vehicles. Everything, though, has a book value:

  • Book value is the purchase price of an item minus its depreciation

Notice you need two bits of information to determine book value:

  1. Original purchase price, taken from a trusted source such as a receipt, invoice, or charge card statement
  2. Depreciation, which can be determined from its deductible value were it a business expense or from the lowered value due to “wear and tear”

You will have an easier time determining the book value of your various home treasures if you know when the item was bought (and from whom) and for how much. The skills of a trained auction house estimator, insurance adjustor, or consignment shop manager may come into play here. Trained professionals, who deal day-to-day with household furnishings, may be able to provide a quick estimate of every item’s value.

If you and your spouse agree to accept the local expert’s valuation for your property settlement agreement, book value becomes extremely easy.

Determining Replacement Value

When you and your spouse part ways, you cannot physically split the refrigerator, the flat screen television, or the vacation house in the Shenandoah Valley.

  • Replacement value is the cost to replace an item you previously purchased. Replacement value rises and falls with market demand and technological innovation

Say you leave and take your Samsung The Wall 292-inch flat-screen TV with you (yeah; good luck with that in your itty-bitty U-Haul). Your spouse must pay to replace it but will probably pay more than the $12,517 you paid a few years back. That makes the television’s replacement value higher than book value.

Say you leave and take your $599 World Book Encyclopedia set with you, all 22 volumes. Your spouse, however, can replace that with a digital subscription for $99. The replacement value is $99, not $599.

But How Can I Calculate Sentimental Value?

“Priceless” has two meanings. Something is priceless if, literally, no replacement value or book value can be determined for it. Something is also priceless if it is beyond pricing … if no amount of money could replace it.

Let’s say—completely theoretically of course—that you and your spouse bought a little wood-panel painting in Europe on your honeymoon some years ago. You and your spouse enjoyed it for years, but now that you are divorcing, you plan to take it with you. You owe her half its value. How much?

You poke around and discover something you have never noticed before: a tiny signature, “Jan Van Eyck.” You have learned two important facts:

  1. Unknowingly, you have trafficked in stolen art
  2. The painting is priceless

Though an extreme example (and we encourage you never to dabble in stolen art), the painting has immense sentimental value and cannot reasonably be split between you.

More common examples of sentimentally valuable objects are items made by your children, vacation souvenirs, wedding albums, high school letter jackets, and the like.

Keeping Property Records

Keeping accurate records for the various items in your home makes sense on multiple levels. In Virginia, property falls into three categories when determining equitable division, all legally defined in Code of Virginia § 20-107.3:

  1. Separate Property—Owned before the marriage by only one spouse, such as a vacation home, savings account, or patents
  2. Marital Property—Acquired during the marriage for the benefit of both spouses, using mingled assets (such as a payment from a joint checking account), such as the marital home, vehicles bought during the marriage, and household items
  3. Hybrid Property—Property acquired with one person’s assets but used for the benefit of the marriage, or separate property used by both spouses, such as a personal inheritance used to pay down the marital home mortgage

Call Our Virginia Beach Separation Attorneys Today

Squabbling over book value and replacement value comes down to exercises in mathematics and economics. Eventually through mediation, compromise, and adult behavior you two will determine the value of all the household items.

Untangling hybrid property, marital property, and separate property falls to your attorneys and accountants. Though this process can be laborious, eventually it, too, has a final answer and a bottom line.

Sentimental value, then, is the highest hurdle. If both of you attach sentimental value to the same object, compromise may not be possible over the one item. You and your spouse may be able to create a lending arrangement, in which you get the children’s handmade Christmas ornaments on odd-numbered years. Only you and your spouse can determine how simple or complex your solution must be.

Whatever obstacles you face in dealing with a property settlement agreement, The Firm For Men stands ready to help. Contact us today to see what we can do to defend your rights, protect your name and assets, and smooth the path to a brighter future.