The first step towards proper legacy planning is to create a basic inventory of your work. Creating one will make the executor’s job (the person who will carry out the wishes you expressed in your will) much less burdensome.  It will also assist loved ones, beneficiaries, colleagues, and whoever else wants to find your work later and better understand the development of your career. This is perhaps the most important step in planning your legacy.

If you start early and periodically continue to inventory your work, this can also be an easy step in the process.  Regardless of whether you are just beginning your career or have been working for years, maintaining an inventory of your work is essential in making sure your work lives on.

Topics covered:

What is an inventory?

An inventory is simply a record of your work. It can come in a variety of forms, but it generally consists of the  information in the list below. Attempt to include as many of the following items in your inventory as you can:

  1. Artist’s name
  2. Title of the work
    • If not all of your work is titled, consider numbering the untitled works to distinguish them from one another
  3. Creation location
    • This refers to where the work was created; naming a city to provide a general location is sufficient
  4. Current location
    • Where the work is currently located; try to be as specific as possible. This information is meant to assist your estate and any beneficiaries you named in locating the artwork. For instance, naming the city in which the work is located is not sufficient, but naming the storage site as well as the city might be specific enough.
  5. Discipline
    • For example: painting, sculpture, etc.
  6. Media & Support
    • The actual materials used. For example: oil on canvas, watercolor
  7. Dimensions
    • You can choose either inches or centimeters, but be consistent. (See Practical Tips below)
  8. Year completed, or copyright date
    • See Practical Tips below for instructions and advice regarding copyrighting and dating your work correctly
    • A short description of the work, explanation of any symbolism, meaning or message it may have, and/or information about your creative process
  10. Exhibitions
    • Exhibitions the work was included in
  11. Publications and catalogs
    • Publications that relate to the work and/or catalogs that display it.
  12. Valuation
    • A value attributed to the work from a qualified appraisal (See our Valuation and Tax section for more information on a qualified appraisal), or the last sale price. Just remember to take note of which you use for each value.
  13. Reviews
    • References to any reviews of the work
  14. Key words
    • This is to help you, or those who administer your estate, find each work or similar works. If you need assistance, we recommend referring to the Library of Congress’s guide on authority files, or taxonomies linked to here.
  15. An image of the work
    • The image of the work can be a simple snapshot – it does not need to be a high-resolution or professional photograph. See Practical Tips section below for instructions and advice on this

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How do I start an inventory?

The process of inventorying your work can be simple and straightforward.

  1. Choose a template (some samples appear below under Inventory Tools), enter some basic information (see above section What is an inventory? for a list), and snap a picture.
  2. Set a workable schedule for yourself where you periodically revisit your inventory and keep it updated. This can be every month, every six months or even every time you finish a work.
  3. It’s important to inventory your work in a medium that can be preserved for many years and that is easily accessible. The best form of inventorying, then, is using a computer where you can easily edit, save, transfer and maintain your ever-increasing inventory.
  4. There are many tools to chose from.  We present a few samples below under Inventory Tools and even provide a free template as an example that you can use.

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Practical Tips

Now that you have a better idea of what an inventory should include and how to begin one, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Your artwork and art-related materials, or other contents of your studio, are different things. Although you may choose to name beneficiaries for both your artwork as well as your art-related materials (such as brushes, paints, canvas, books, etc.), an inventory of your artwork need not include art supplies.
  • Make sure all of your artwork is titled, signed and dated. Again, even if you have untitled works in your possession (whether it is artwork created by you personally or other artwork you own), consider creating a numbered system to distinguish them from one another. E.g., “Untitled 1, Untitled 2, Untitled 3,” etc. This will be very helpful for your estate and beneficiaries.
  • You can apply a copyright notice directly to your work. On the back of your work, or wherever you choose where it is easily readable, simply place the copyright symbol “©”, along with your name, year of creation and any subsequent updates to the work.
    • For example, if you finished a work in 2000 and updated in 2013, you would include both dates: © John Doe 2000/2013.
    • However, if you made a work in 2000, and continued working on it for the next eleven years, your notice would include: © John Doe 2000-2011.
  • If your work has any supplementary documentation or archival materials, consider organizing them chronologically and including a reference to them somewhere in your inventory (perhaps under comments). This can be anything from papers, diaries, notes. correspondence, plans or process materials. This incidental information can provide a rich account of your artistic legacy.
  • As mentioned above under How do I start an inventory?, it’s best to create your inventory in a form that can be preserved for many years and that is easily accessible. Using a computer to create an inventory that you can easily edit, save, transfer, and add information as you continue to create more art is the best and most efficient method in the long term. See Inventory Tools for an example and suggestions of computer tools to use to create your inventory.
  • The image of the work you put in your inventory can be a simple snapshot – it does not need to be a high- resolution or professional photograph.  In fact, a simple photo taken with a smartphone can suffice to identify each work.  For simple instructions of how to use an iPhone to upload and save a picture to your computer, see here.
  • There’s no uniform taxonomy used across the board by all art-related institutions. However, if you require assistance with determining Key Words for you work, or if you would like to follow a guide, we recommend consulting the Library of Congress’s guide here.
  • Most importantly, BE CONSISTENT. An inventory is only useful if the information it contains is accurate and refers correctly to each corresponding artwork. Any discrepancies can cause a lot of confusion down the line. For example:
    • Make sure the titles and dates written on the physical artwork actually match those entered into your inventory
    • Make sure the pictures included in the inventory are of the correct artwork.
    • Whether you choose inches or centimeters as your unit of measurement, make sure you use the same measurement for all similar works throughout the inventory.

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Inventory Tools

There are many tools  to help you create an inventory.  Some are very simple and free such as Excel, and others can cost some money. While we do not specifically endorse any one of these tools, below please find some options you might consider. In addition to Excel, these options include both “Open Source” software, and “Paid Software”:

Microsoft Excel: Most people already have this program.  It is easy to use. Here is a sample inventory in Excel that you can download and use. The sample has five entries filled in to give you an example of what the entries might look like.

Here is a sample inventory you can download and use. The sample has five entries filled in to give you an example of what the entries might look like.

Click here to download example Excel Inventory

Notes for using this Excel inventory:

  1. You can (and should) insert a picture of each work you include in your inventory.  In the sample we provide, you can find the picture column by scrolling all the way to the right. The picture column for the entries used in our sample contain links to artwork found on the internet.  For your work, you can either insert the pictures directly into the excel document or you can insert a link to the picture that is saved on file.  For instructions on how to insert the picture directly into excel click here, and for instructions on how to insert a link to a picture click here.
  2. To clear the sample entries and begin using the excel for your own inventory, simply highlight all of the sample data entered, right click, and press “clear content.”
  3. Obviously, these works are priceless. However, when creating your own inventory, it is useful to put a monetary value on your artwork. For more information on how to do this, please visit our Valuation and Tax page.

Open Source Software:  “Open Source” software is free to download. Below are different versions of free, “open source” software.

  • ABC Inventory Software (Although this is primarily designed for small- and medium-sized businesses, this program can be readily adapted for artists’ use)


  • Know Your Stuff (Again, this program is not specifically designed for artists, but still is a useful tool for basic inventory management for items in your home and elsewhere)



Paid Software:  This is software that you would have to buy. Costs vary greatly. Some artists, galleries and museums prefer to use paid software because it is specifically created for artwork. Below are different versions of “paid software”.






Working Artist


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