In most cases, a person who is creating a comprehensive estate plan has a fairly good idea of the approximate value of their assets. For financial accounts and other items of relatively straight forward personal property establishing an accurate value simply means referring to a financial statement or possible checking the Blue Book value of a car.
Not all assets are quite as amenable to an easy valuation. Business assets can require a thorough examination and forensic accounting to enable an accurate valuation and determine a fair market value. In some instances the process can be even more complicated, such as when the value of a specific item is the subject of ongoing litigation at the time of the testator's death. This is the situation that one family found themselves in when they inherited a stock certificate which potentially be worth many millions of dollars.
In this case a man bought an antique stock certificate at an estate sale. The stock certificate was for stock in the Palmer Union Oil Company. This man tracked the down the ownership of the oil company through a variety of mergers and acquisitions until he found the company that he believed to the be the ultimate successor. That Company is Coca Cola, he determined that his antique stock certificate that he bought for a nominal amount was worth $130 million of Coca Cola stock.
Not surprisingly Coca Cola is disputing the validity of the ownership claim associated with the stock certificate. But before that case could be resolved, the man who bought the certificate passed away. Now his heirs are continuing to seek to have the certificate redeemed on behalf of his estate.
Source: Reuters News, "Garage sale find: $130 million in Coke stock?" Tom Hals, April 5, 2012