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I have letters and other handwritten items written to me in the 1960s by a world famous rock musician, who died young but still has a following.

Judging by online auction prices, I would think they are probably worth £15,000-£20,000.

Of course I paid nothing for them, but if I did sell them would I have to pay capital gains tax?

Thank you for any information you can give me.

Heather Rogers replies: Most people are well aware that they have to pay capital gains tax on the profit on the sale of an asset, such as a second home or shares.

But capital gains tax is also due on the sale of personal possessions, usually referred to as ‘chattels’.

The definition of a chattel is something you can touch and move.

The way in which capital gains tax works with regard to chattels, including letters, is explained below.

However, a word of caution: I have no idea which rock musician wrote to you or what is contained within your letters, but remember that whereas you own the physical items, the contents belong to the author.

Although the author has died, the copyright has not and will have passed to his or her heirs and beneficiaries.

A deceased world famous rock star might have a powerful estate that takes an interest in the transaction you are considering.

I would therefore advise any client in your position to get legal advice prior to a sale.

What is classed as a chattel?

Chattels include: furniture, paintings, antiques, china, brassware/silverware, games such as chess-sets or mahjong sets, jewellery, books, manuscripts, letters, coins and stamps.

Certain assets are classed as chattels, yet are exempt from capital gains tax. This is because they are ‘wasting assets’, those with a lifespan of 50 years or less.

These generally include: motor vehicles (including classic vehicles), clocks and watches.

Letters don’t fall into the ‘wasting asset’ category, and nor do books or manuscripts, as they can be preserved for centuries if looked after properly.

The tax rules are different for chattels used for business, as opposed to personal possessions, but there is no need to get into that here.

Do you have to report the sale of your letters to HMRC?

You have a capital gains tax allowance, currently £12,300 each year (see the box on the right).

Beyond this, you only need to report to HMRC any gain on the disposal of a single chattel where the disposal proceeds were more than £6,000 and the chattel is not exempt from CGT.

The disposal proceeds will normally be the amount of money you received when you sold it.

If the proceeds exceed £6,000 but are less than £15,000, the amount of the gain depends on the amount of the:

– Disposal proceeds.

– Actual gain.

Your gain is usually the difference between what you paid for it and what you sold it for.

See the link below for how to calculate your gain, including where the proceeds are more than £15,000.

How can you calculate a gain when you didn’t buy a chattel, such as a letter?

In these cases, the market value is used. Examples of this are:

– It was a gift.

– You inherited it.

– You owned it before April 1982.

The website explains how to calculate your gain and what to do if you make a loss here.

Can you deduct any costs from your gain?

Costs you can deduct include:

– Professional fees paid, such as for valuation or advertising

– Costs you incurred improving your possession (but not general repair and maintenance)

– Purchase and sale costs.

What about items that are part of a set?

A set is items that are:

– Similar and complementary to each other

– Worth more together than separately

– Items which are part of a set include: chess pieces; canteens of cutlery, china sets, matching ornaments/vases/bowls, and books written by the same author.

If you dispose of a number of chattels that form a set, the £6,000 limit that normally applies to a single chattel applies to the set.

There are special rules that apply to sets which have been broken up and the pieces sold separately.

If the parts of the set were:

– Owned by you at the same time

– Sold by you to the same person, or a number of people acting together, or a number of people who are connected – for example, members of the same family – then the £6,000 limit applies to the whole set, not to each bit of it sold individually.

However, if you sell parts of a set to different people, who are not connected, then you won’t pay tax on each part sold for less than £6,000.

What rules are likely to apply to your letters?

In your particular circumstances, the letters would most likely form a set as they were written by the same person, so the rules for sets would apply.

Additionally, as you say that you have owned them since before 1982 you will need to use the link above to ascertain a market value figure to calculate your gain.