The payout of investing in gold can be counterintuitive. Estates that hold gold, gold bullion, and/or numismatic assets add complexity to the estate-planning process. Here I will provide an overview of ways to invest and the considerations one should take if their estate holds gold, gold bullion, and/or numismatics; I will also include a checklist for reducing the risks.

What Is the Value of Investing in Gold, Gold Bullion, and Numismatics?

Even if you are not a dedicated coin collector, you oftentimes will be tempted to buy gold and silver coinsespecially when you see them sold at auctions for millions of dollars. Fear of financial instability encourages investors to contemplate buying gold or silver and has been a good diversity move since the times of the Lydians. Gold sells at a safety premium when financial or political turmoil occurs. So what gives the greatest return: a gold bullion fund, numismatics, or physical gold bullion?

A numismatic gold coin does not always bring a reliable, premium Internal Rate of Return (IRR) over time to an investor. Consider the following chart:

Estate planning for Estates with Gold, Gold Bullion, and Numismatics

The chart shows the actual London Fix price of gold from 2000 to 2015. Per ounce, the price of gold grew from $284.00 on January 2, 2000 to $1,108.70 on August 11, 2015, which is an IRR of 10.6%. Now consider the auction results of a gold cointake for example a $20, MS61-grade, 1925 St. Gauden “Double Eagle.” The coin is one ounce of gold, but the price for this coin grew from a hammer price of $381 in October 2001 to $1,300.00 in October of 2014, which is an IRR of 9.16%.

1925 St. Gauden “Double Eagle.”

1925 St. Gauden “Double Eagle.”


GLD, a bullion fund, was priced on November 8, 2004 at $44.78 per unit, and on August 8, 2015 the price was $104.93, an IRR of only 8.01%. The bullion beats numismatic, and both beat the gold bullion fund.

Estate Planning and the Risks of Holding in Gold in an Estate

There are also risks when a significant portion of the estate is in the physical form of gold coins, whether bullions or numismatics. Since they are tangible property, they are treated differently than liquid assets for both income and estate-tax purposes.

For example, gold, numismatics, art, and other tangible assets may not be used to fund certain types of trusts, such as some marital-deduction trusts and many charitable trusts. Also, since they are illiquid, selling them can involve steep premiums or commissions, sometimes as high as 25% of the sale price. A final factor to consider is that a coin-owner’s knowledge of the nature and scope of the gold market may not be shared by his or her survivors, who may end up selling those tangible assets to a dealer or other buyer for a fraction of their true value.

Checklist for Estates Holding in Gold, Gold Bullion, and Numismatics

A partial checklist for handling gold, gold bullion, and numismatics in estate planning is very similar to that of any estate plan where the client has significant tangible assets. It includes:

  • A current inventory of the collection, including location, cost basis, and description of the item.
  • A list of all significant contractual relationships the owner has with the dealer and auction houses, and a record of which items are on consignment for sale, to be sold at auction, on loan, or on display.
  • Copyrights that may go with an item if it was featured in an article.
  • Knowledge of how to maintain and ultimately dispose of the tangible items (e.g., who to rely on to give a “fair” deal).
  • Proper security and storage of items so that nothing valuable “walks off.”
  • Specific delineation of the gifts and the terms of those gifts, whether intended for individuals or charities.

If a client does not have answers ready for these questions, they risk having the gold mishandled in the estate (which often happens with any sort of tangible property). To avoid this—especially when the assets are significant—you may need to call in a specialist to handle such assets or risk facing recriminations from the client’s family.

Should You Have Gold, Gold Bullion, and Numismatics in Your Estate?

Although I do not recommend numismatics as an investment (and in fact do not recommend any investments), I do recommend coin-collecting as an excellent hobby and interest. If you are interested in owning numismatics and coins and are hoping to earn a decent return, the best advice I am able to give is to associate with an excellent coin dealer. Some of the best I know are:

Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins and Collectibles, Inc.

11400 West Olympic Boulevard

Suite 800

Los Angeles, CA 90064

Phone: (310) 551-2646

Toll-Free: (800) 978-2646

Fax: (310) 551-2626


Stack’s Bowers Galleries

New York Office
123 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019
Toll-Free: (800) 566-2580
Phone: (212) 582-2580
Fax: (212) 245-5018


Heritage Auctions

3500 Maple Avenue, 17th Floor
Dallas, Texas 75219-3941

Toll-Free: (800) 872-6467

Phone: (214) 528-3500

Fax: (214) 409-1425


Matthew Erskine is the fourth-generation owner and operator of The Erskine Company, located in Worcester, Massachusetts. He specializes in estate planning, trust services, tax planning and risk management, succession planning, and unique-asset management. The Erskine Company provides peace of mind and security through quality estate-planning services. Call or visit today for a consultation.

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