All About Estates

Analog Art, Analog Assets

For my last blog post, I discussed the potential financial value of an individual’s “personalty” and clauses in wills governing such personalty. While an individual’s more traditional assets may include bank accounts, real estate or vehicles, there may also be some other personal items (e.g. collections) that may have significant financial value for an estate.

I’d like to discuss “physical” assets a bit more, this time focusing on assets they may have a more sentimental or intangible value. I was inspired to write on this topic by the thesis prepared by Cole Anderson, who holds a Master of Arts in Film Photography Preservation and Collection Management from Toronto Metropolitan University. The thesis, titled “VIDEO ARTISTS: CREATING A LIVING LEGACY”, is an in-depth guide for the estate planning considerations of video artists who have worked with physical film and photography media (e.g. video cassettes, 24mm film), and how to carry on the legacy of their works to be viewed, enjoyed and understood by future generations.

These media, while arguably “outdated” (i.e. replaced by digital file formats), continue to exist today, and artists do need to account for them. Yet, at the same time, the mechanical means to actually play and display these media are becoming rarer as more and more companies cease to manufacture them (although such obsolescence won’t necessarily be permanent – see, for example, the renaissance that the vinyl industry has experienced in the past decade).

In its analysis of literature on this topic, the article makes the intriguing point is that video artists can choose to take one of two approaches to preserving their art:

  • A purist/original technology approach, which “situates the original medium of an artwork as a salient aspect of its intent and aesthetic quality” and “relies on collecting, storing and maintaining playback equipment and spare parts in proper storage conditions in order to extent the playable lifespan of videotape”; and
  • An adapted/updated technology approach, which “relies on the emulation and migration of artworks to more stable and playable formats such as digitization in the case of videotape”.

The main tension between these approaches is the aforementioned obsolescence of older forms of media vs. the “inevitable slippage” that comes with transitions to new technology that may unintendingly transform the work.

Notwithstanding the potential drawbacks, the thesis does advocate for the digitization of existing analog media, even if just for the purposes of serving as a backup. There are services available to convert analog media into digital formats that can be stored on computers or even on media such as DVDs. It also discusses the importance of having uncompressed files, as opposed to only having compressed files which may reduce the quality of the work. Naturally, different file types (e.g. .MOV, .AVI., .MP4) have different attributes that an artist needs to consider in terms of what would work best for their art.

Yet, no matter which approach the artist takes, they should take into account the following factors when it comes to the storage of their work (whether in a physical analog or digital format (e.g. DVDs)):

  • storing works in a cool, dry, clean area (without large temperature fluctuations or high humidity) that is not near any sources of heat, direct sunlight, windows, dust/debris or food/beverages;
  • housing works on a shelving unit anchored to the floor or wall in a vertical position;
  • using storage cases that are placed away from anything that can create a strong electromagnetic field (e.g. wiring, television sets, loud speakers, air conditioners);
  • cataloguing the content with unique identification numbers (and ensuring that any files are named properly so they can be opened without error);
  • maintaining a record of the contact information of any relevant parties with respect to a work, including curators, galleries, dealers, staff at art foundations/distribution centers, collaborators, and/or other fellow artists; and
  • most importantly, constructing an inventory detailing each work, with descriptive and contextual information and supplementary documents. This is critical for artists, as the thesis states that “[b]y providing and preserving historical and contextual information, your work accrues value and can be better understood by others”.

Yet, I think these are important considerations not only for video artists but for anyone who has photographs or videos stored solely in a physical format. While I’ve blogged a fair amount about digital assets of sentimental value, certainly many of us may have these types physical assets of sentimental value as well. Some people may only have certain photographic or video content stored in a physical format without any backups. When doing our estate planning for these assets–which often have significant sentimental value–we need to consider the impacts of the passage of time and the potential for environmental damage.

More generally, the final point I’d like to emphasize: whether an asset has significant financial or sentimental value, if it is physical in nature it should be appropriately stored and inventoried. This will help preserve that asset’s value for future generations to come.

About Demetre Vasilounis
Demetre is an associate in the Private Client Services group of Fasken’s Toronto office. He has a broad trusts and estates practice and has developed and implemented cohesive succession plans for clients involving a wide range of different family and corporate structures. He has also advised on a breadth of family wealth planning matters, including tax issues, estate freezes, cross-border and international estates, probate planning, disability planning, charitable gifting, asset protection strategies, personal privacy, intellectual property and domestic contracts. Demetre regularly speaks and writes about various legal issues in succession planning, including in particular the evolving area of digital assets in estate planning. His work has been cited by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice and he has spoken at both national and international events. Demetre has obtained the prestigious Trust and Estate Practitioner (TEP) designation from the Society of Trusts and Estates Practitioners (STEP). While Demetre assists many families with navigating these areas, he is also experienced in helping individual entrepreneurs and business owners, philanthropists, athletes, artists, authors, entertainers, social media influencers and various types of professionals.


  1. Malcolm Burrows

    May 12, 2023 - 3:41 pm

    Thx Demetre – Good piece on an underconsidered issue. Malcolm

  2. Kelly Juhasz

    May 15, 2023 - 11:33 am

    Thanks Demetre, this is an often overlooked situation. Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure to work with numerous family members of artists and have helped them manage the artworks left in the studio along with archival documents such as photographs, sketchbooks and notebooks, libraries, letters and correspondence, exhibition catalogues and other pieces of ephemera belonging to the artist.

    In each case where I’ve been called in, there has been hundreds of pieces of artwork to be handled. Most cases, the artwork has been left to them and they find themselves not knowing what to do next.

    Only half of our legacy clients have had knowledge in the art markets. The other half didn’t. And we saw numerous mistakes from both groups in documenting the artwork and storing the artwork. For multimedia artists, these films, videos, audio recordings, negatives, photographs and associated documents may hold significant value either in the marketplace to collectors or as cultural property in an institution.

    There are numerous considerations to think about and questions that the family member or members who have been left the responsibility for the artwork and the artist’s reputation need to ask? The biggest one is: “Do I have the will and capacity to take this on? Or should I look to work with a professional who can direct me and our family with all these tasks?”

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