There are often disagreements in a divorce about the value of certain assets. Most commonly, this involves real estate and personal property. However, the value of a pension or a business also may be at issue. Although the below information may also be relevant in other states, this article specifically applies to divorces in Wisconsin.
If the parties do not agree on a value, the only option is to have the asset appraised. If there is a dispute, the court must have a reliable source for a value. The court will not consider the opinions of either party because there is no real basis for their opinion. The only way to have a reliable value is to have an expert conduct an appraisal. Usually, the parties agree on an appraiser or the court will appoint one. The parties then usually share in the cost. It is always preferable to have a mutually agreed upon appraiser or a court appointed one so a situation does not arise where there are “dueling appraisers”. This saves everyone time and money.
For real estate, there are many reputable appraisers around and each judge always has a few that he/she prefers. As long as they are a licensed appraiser, the court will usually accept them as an expert. Once the appraised value is determine by a neutral expert, it is very difficult to contest that value except if there is an obvious error. If you want to object to the value, you would have to hire your own expert to testify. This is very rare and most real estate appraisers are at least in the ballpark in terms of value.
Appraising personal property is tricky. It is very difficult to accurately determine the fair market value of things like TV’s, furniture, etc. Of course, the value of those items is what someone is willing to pay for them such as in a rummage sale or on Craig’s List. Even if you only recently purchased an item, it loses resale value almost immediately. It is also virtually impossible to itemize every single thing in a home. There are always items that are missed or overlooked. Appraisers do not go pawing through boxes or drawers. There are also very few individuals who conduct these appraisals because they are time consuming and difficult. Attorneys usually encourage their clients to resolve this issue. However, if you absolutely can’t, an appraisal is necessary. Most people are not happy with the results but it is the best we can do under the circumstances.
Specialized items of personal property are often appraised separately. These items included guns, jewelry, antiques, artwork and unusual equipment or artifacts. An appraiser with specific experience with these items is necessary. Depending on the item and where you reside, it is often difficult to find someone and sometimes it is required to look outside of your area or even your state. You would then need to pay for that person to come to you or ship/transport the items to that person at their location. This becomes very time consuming and costly.
If you have a pension, this may also need to be valued. Pensions are defined benefit plans which provide a monthly benefit to you when you retire. Pensions often vary greatly and have different rules, policies and procedures. An actuary or accountant can calculate the present value of that pension. However, the calculation is based on your life expectancy and an estimated length of time that you will collect that pension. You may live much less or much longer than your life expectancy pursuant to current actuarial tables. Therefore, a pension evaluation is basically an educated guess. However, sometimes it is necessary if a person wants to buy out the other spouse’s share of the pension or offset it against another asset, such as a marital residence.
Lastly, a business can be appraised or valued as well. There are many different ways to do so and an expert is required to conduct this appraisal or value as well. For more information about a business valuation, see our blog post on this topic: How Is a Business Valued in a Wisconsin Divorce Case.
To discuss your assets in your divorce and how they may be valued or appraised, please contact us at 414-258-1644 to schedule a free initial office consultation or visit our website for more information on property division.