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Estate Planning for Motorcycle Collectors, revised edition

Or what might happen to your beloved bikes when you're not around

By John Stein with edits from Bandit and John Martinisko

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Note: I'm not pretending that this is the definitive work on winding down your collection or living your life. But if it gets you to at least consider what steps should be taken, and how, the article will have done its job.

As motorcycle fanatics, we've all laid awake nights wondering how we could add to our collections. At some point in our lives, doing exactly the opposite probably makes more sense. The reason, of course, is advancing age while hanging onto a deeply misguided belief that our family shares our passions.

Two things often happen after we kick the bucket. First, our supposed bros come over and try to bully your family into selling them your prized possessions cheap. “He promised…”

“Sure pal, we’ve heard it all before,” Should be the Redhead’s response. “Now, hit the road.”

The second would likely come from the kids who put up with your 2-wheeled passion for 40 years. “Get rid of this shit,” said your favorite son or daughter, who’s only passion is video games. Get the picture?

Click to get one...
Click to get one...

John Stein produced this DVD on the history of motorcycle drag racing after he wrote the book. The book is sold out, but sometimes available on Ebay.

Okay, so where’s your current attitude? You could cherish every piece as a treasure that deserves respect and be must be highly valued. Or you could say, “Fuck it. I’m going to party with my stuff until I’m gone. Then it’s their problem.”

In this article, we are going to take the previous notion and treat everything as a treasure to be respected and valued.

Step 1
Create a document inventorying all the motorcycles and parts you own. Include their condition, location, history and estimated value.

If you have units on display in museums, friend’s homes, offices or restaurants, make a list and keep it up to date. Wait, what about that 45 flathead in a shop 2,000 miles away. Write it down and include a photo.

As appropriate in your situation, give copies of the inventory to a trusted family member, attorney, financial planner, etc.

Document Storage: Make sure you have all documents, titles, and insurance papers stored in a secure location. Additional documentation could include photos with captions. A title is cool, but without a photo she might not know what the hell it looks like. It could be the vintage Indian in the bedroom.

Make sure all your relatives are taken care of...
Make sure all your relatives are taken care of...

Step 2:
Selling your bikes and parts.
This info might be helpful to downsize your collection. Or it can help guide the beneficiaries of your collection when you’re gone.

Considering the obscurity of certain motorcycles, as well as the small pool of potential buyers for some of the more expensive ones, it can easily take years. Or you could find a buyer right away. Documentation and history is important, including memorabilia.

In all likelihood, selling off the parts will prove most challenging and time-consuming. You can't easily donate them to charity or sell them at a Mecum’s-type auction as you can with a complete motorcycle. Your best bet then will be to sell them to another collector, and there’s always EBay as an obvious way to do so. This could be daunting or a fun learning experience. Each part is valuable to the right builder. There are also forums for various motorcycles where only the owners go looking. There are also places like Facebook Marketplace.

It is unlikely Museums will want parts, but art and memorabilia could be valuable.

When you put out feelers, make sure they include overseas markets as well. A friend of mine has an enormous collection of parts for early Yamaha road racers, which he's found move very slowly in the states but really well in England and Australia. Uncollectible parts in the US can be extremely valuable to Japanese builders.

Keep an eye on the markets. If they are flooded with parts from a collection, suddenly your rare parts are not sought-after. On the other hand you might learn that complete, rebuilt Knucklehead engines are going for $19,000…

Never forget the code of the antique dealer. If you want to sell a used Linkert carb they aren’t worth a dime, maybe $25.00. But if you called the dealer the following week and needing to purchase a used Linkert carb and they’re suddenly rare as hen’s teeth. He might be able to find you one for $625.00.

It’s a game. You can advertise a garage sale on Craig’s list and sell everything to empty out of the precious shop. Now your kids can make a killer game room out of it. Bada bing.

Step 3:
Estate planning:
We all need to visit an estate planning attorney and check all the boxes. A will is good, but your heirs will have to go thru probate and pay the piper.

Another tool in estate planning is to set up a revocable living trust. You put your assets into the trust and remain in full control of them as long as you are able. When you die or become unable to handle your affairs, the items in the trust easily get turned over to your designated beneficiaries.
If you decide to do a trust, make sure that you title each motorcycle to your trust so as not to get tangled up in probate.

Separation anxiety? Not really.

Having recently begun the process of paring down my own collection, I've discovered a few things. After having sold some motorcycles I've owned for decades, I expected to mourn their loss--which hasn't been the case at all. And I just removed one annual registration, insurance and maintenance fee from the to-do list.

There's actually something therapeutic about it. Not only
will you have more money in the bank, but fewer things to step over in the garage. And not to belabor the point but there's the very real satisfaction that comes with removing a tremendous future burden on your family. Plus, what about the fees for storage buildings?

That said, you may want to keep certain motorcycles in your estate even if you're not around to enjoy them. If you have the good fortune to own a particularly famous motorcycle, you may want to stipulate that it stay in the family. (It would be a purely emotional decision but aren't we allowed one or two of those?)

All in all, the subject isn't something we really want to think about but sooner or later, we have to. Such is life.

And save the World. It's a blast and whacky forever!
And save the World. It's a blast and whacky forever!

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