When you buy a piece of art, can you be sure it’s really yours? Many collectors don’t always feel certain on that score. They worry in some cases that after they make a purchase someone will show up, maybe years later, and claim the art was stolen at some point in the past—ultimately leaving the new owner empty-handed, without the art or the money paid for it.
That’s one reason many art advisers and lawyers recommend title insurance, which can at least partially protect a collector’s financial interests if a piece of art has to be surrendered. But theft isn’t the only issue. Title insurance also can help protect collectors if the person they bought art from becomes entangled in divorce, bankruptcy, probate or other legal proceedings that question the seller’s right to dispose of the art.
Some advisers say title insurance is particularly important because of the sharp increase in the prices of many artworks in recent years—buyers have more to lose. But title insurance has been a hard sell.
William Fleischer, president of insurance brokerage firm Bernard Fleischer & Sons Inc., says most collectors are willing to forgo the cost, in part because many already have paid advisers and lawyers to check on the authenticity and history of ownership of their art, and they have confidence in those experts.
For those who want additional reassurance, some insurance companies offer “defense of title” coverage, which typically pays up to $100,000 in legal costs in the event of a title dispute but doesn’t reimburse policyholders for the value of any objects taken away from them.
The leading provider of more-complete coverage is New York-based ARIS Title Insurance Corp., a unit of Argo Group International Holdings Ltd. It offers policies that cover legal costs in the event of a title dispute and the full purchase price of the piece if the buyer has to surrender the work. Collectors pay a one-time premium averaging 2% to 3% of the purchase price of the item being insured. They can increase coverage, for an additional premium, if the artwork’s value appreciates.
Mr. Grant is a writer living in Amherst, Mass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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