All About Estates

Gotta Catch ‘Em All: Pokémon Cards and Personalty Clauses

Just under six years ago, I bought a Pokémon Trading Card Game (TCG) Venusaur Ex Red and Blue Collection Box. I was feeling stressed about studying for my law school exams and, being a massive Pokémon fan, I went for a walk to my local hobby store and decided to engage in some retail therapy. For those of you who are not TCG players, it’s hard to explain the wonderful little dopamine rush one feels every time they open a fresh new pack of cards. That being said, subsequent to buying the box, I was feeling better and decided to store it away in my closet and save opening those packs for a time when I was feeling down.

I soon forgot about the box and never did end up opening it. However, at the beginning of 2022 I discovered something about it I hadn’t realized: in spring 2017 I had bought the box for around $30.00 CAD, and less than 5 years later its average asking price increased over 1100% and many sellers are now offering that same box for around $360.00 CAD. And that’s just for a box where you don’t even know what you’re going to get.

When I was a child I remember being swept up in the Pokémon card collecting frenzy. Many parents, my own included, used to say that we should keep our Pokémon cards because they’d be worth a lot of money one day. Turns out they were absolutely right. The Pokémon TCG has been around for nearly thirty years, and due to their rarity some cards can sell for tens of thousands of dollars. This is also the case for other TCG like Magic the Gathering and Flesh and Blood. Although I haven’t spent that much money on a single card, I will say that now that I am an adult with disposable income I have certainly exercised my financial freedom to spend more money on Pokémon cards than I’m comfortable specifying.

The point I’m trying to make is that Pokémon cards are an example of “personal items” (or “personalty”) that may have significant value. The same goes for other collections: sneakers, Beanie Babies, stamps, Funko Pops or vinyl record collections[1] are all great examples. When dealing with these items in an estate planning context, we often include clauses in wills that address all articles of “personal, domestic, household or garden use or ornament”, sometimes with a reference to include “boats, automobiles and accessories thereto”. In some cases these clauses do not direct the personalty to be gifted to a specific beneficiary but instead simply give the estate trustees discretion as to how to distribute the personalty (including making donations to charity or even to dispose of or destroy them).

I share my anecdote about Pokémon cards as a reminder to advisors to ask the clients if they have any collections and if they know what their collections are worth. Collections are exactly the types of “personalty” that may have value which is not known by the client – this is unlike say, jewellery, where the client likely does know that it’s valuable. This is because collector’s items often attribute their ever-increasing value from their scarcity (which becomes more apparent over time), and sometimes the owner may not know that their particular item is rare.

The takeaway is that if the estate planning client knows that their collection is valuable, then they may want it to go to someone specific and may not want it to be captured in the general “personalty” clause. As a general rule, advisors should always confirm with that their clients know the approximate value of their assets as the value of an asset may inform the client’s intent with respect to that asset.

One last thing that I’d like to share is that, as with any other sort of bequest or direction in a will, ascertaining a testator’s intent is key. There have been plenty of cases where it was disputed whether a certain type of personal item fell with in the “personalty” clause in a will. For example, Ontario courts have confirmed that where otherwise not specified a coin collection[2] and a car[3] fell within such clauses. However, in each case the will worded its “personalty” clause differently (sometimes the word “personal” was not even in the clause), and in each case there were other contextual factors to consider.

In the Pokémon card example (and as we’ve seen in other cases of this nature), one might make the argument that if they are collected for the purposes of reselling and investing they should not fall under the “personalty” clause. Indeed, there is a whole world of Pokémon finance out there: a trip to the PokeInvesting subreddit may be particularly enlightening in this regard. On this, the former Ontario Supreme Court stated in the context of whether a car fell within such a clause that “[i]f the motor car pertained to the house or family in the testator’s lifetime, if it was a domestic vehicle, one result would follow; if it was kept and used by him for business purposes, a different result”.[4] So, if there ever were a dispute as to which clause in a will captures the testator’s Pokémon cards, looking at the purpose for which they were collected may be quite relevant.

Again, however, the testator’s intent should be key. If the testator has a collection, it would be prudent to specifically mention it in the will, whether it is to be gifted separately or as part of a “personalty” clause. As someone who works very hard to find good deals on Pokémon cards to maximize their value in the future, I know I wouldn’t want my beneficiaries to fight about them (unless of course they were doing so in the context of an actual card game – after all that’s what Pokémon cards are designed to do)!

[1] Anyone who has done a video call with me has likely seen my own vinyl record collection on display…and now I’m beginning to think I may have a bit of a spending habit.

[2] Parrag Estate (Re) (1983), [1983] OJ No 49, 22 ACWS (2d) 249 (Ont SC (HCJ))

[3] Johnson (Re) (1931), [1931] OJ No 277, 39 OWN 547 (Ont SC (HCJ))

[4] Ibid.

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.


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