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On money

By HELEN HUNTLEY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 1, 2002

Research can determine value of Olympic collectible

Research can determine value of Olympic collectible

Q. A friend gave my employer's mother a gold medal from the 1984 Winter Olympics. Is it worth anything? How can she find out how much it's worth?

A. To find out what a collectible might be worth, seek out an expert. That would not be me, because I am not prepared to go into competition with the Antiques Road Show. Rather, I recommend that you look for someone who can accurately identify your item and judge its condition and who knows something about the market for that type of collectible.

Local coin and antique shops are a good starting point for your search. In addition, the Internet makes it easier than ever to tap into the knowledge of experts around the nation and even the world. By using search engines, you can find people who deal in Olympic memorabilia or most any other collectible. If you are lucky, some of these dealers' Web sites will display items similar to yours that are offered for sale or auction.

The Internet also can lead you to collectors' organizations and more potential contacts. You also might check out eBay's auction market, keeping in mind that items are not always accurately described by their sellers.

The importance of accurately identifying an item cannot be overstated. Genuine Olympic gold medals are worth thousands of dollars because they are rarely offered for sale. But winners' medals are not the only medals associated with the Olympics. There are, for example, "participation medals" awarded to all athletes, which also are quite valuable, but not as valuable as winners' medals. Other medals are souvenirs or even reproductions. The medal you describe is most likely a gold-colored hiking medal worth $15 to $20, according to Ingrid O'Neil, an Olympic memorabilia dealer in Vancouver, Wash. Mailing your chosen expert a good photograph of the item will help identify it accurately.

If you want to sell a collectible, contact as many potential buyers as possible. There may be wide variations in what a dealer is willing to pay. If you are selling a valuable item, don't just drop it in the mail. Unless you are confident you are dealing with a reputable dealer, get the money first or use a third party as an intermediary on a high-price item.

Q. My assets consist of a home and two individual retirement accounts. I am single, and I have a will leaving everything equally to my two sons. Of late I have been hearing about living trusts. I know the IRAs do not have to go through probate, but I believe my home does. Is it necessary to prepare a living trust solely for the purpose of my sons acquiring my home and avoiding a possible wait of three years for a probate hearing?

A. No.

Homestead property goes through a simplified administration process that should not take anywhere close to three years.

"You do not routinely even go into court for this," St. Petersburg lawyer Bruce Marger said. He said the usual process is to mail in a petition for determination of homestead. He said the court typically enters its order after a three-month wait, giving creditors an opportunity to object to the determination. If the order is granted, property passes to your heirs free of creditors' claims. He said some Florida counties in Florida don't even bother with this simple administration, instead requiring the filing of an affidavit.

Probate becomes drawn out when your estate involves complications, such as the settling of legal disputes involving creditors or beneficiaries, or valuation and sale of a business. Simple estates that are too small to be subject to estate taxes can be settled fairly quickly.

You are correct that your IRAs will pass directly to your named beneficiaries.

One reason people use a living trust is to provide for the management of their affairs if they become incapacitated. An alternative is to give a durable power of attorney to one of your sons.

Online Money Map

Which Web sites are the best sources for financial information? The Sensible Investor (www.sensible-investor.com) offers journalist Colin Stewart's opinions on financial Web sites, books and television shows.

-- Helen Huntley writes about investing and markets for the Times. If you have a question about investments or personal finance, send it to On Money. We'll try to answer those we think are of greatest reader interest. All questions must be submitted in writing, but readers' names will not be published. Send questions to Helen Huntley, Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

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