Dealing with Personal and Sentimental Belongings
Preserving Belongings for the Entire Family
Battles over belongings have been without a doubt the single most argued about and potentially litigated issue for families after a loved one passes away. These battles happen all too often in estates both big and small. One way to avoid these issues is to consider a specific bequest of sentimental items in writing within the family. A discussion at the planning stage with the interested family might also identify issues so that proactive planning can avoid future disputes.
Some trusts could also include a provision that permits selections on a round-robin basis. They also may address the storage and shipping costs associated with personal effects to eliminate any debate. As to valuable art or other types of collections, a trust could identify reputable dealers and experts to address their value and reduce a debate at the time of distribution. Providing a requirement that family photos also be duplicated can make sure those items are also preserved for the entire family.
Family Distribution of Personal Property
Leaving complicated instructions about dividing personal things among family members after someone passes away can sometimes cause more problems than it solves.
Some people like using points to bid on who wants an item most, limit the number of items one can use the points on. The heirs can bid their points on one item or across several, but there should be a limit to no more than five or 10 so single points can’t be put on hundreds of items, for example.
In today's world, there are affordable ways to duplicate videos, reproduce or scan photos or even produce quality prints for important family paintings. Consider allowing the trust or estate to pay for duplication costs giving copies to anyone who would like them.
Individuals do attach themselves to items sometimes just as much for emotional value as market value. Some family members want to go through the things quickly and someone want to take their time. Both feelings can be very legitimate.
Often times son-in-law's and daughter-in-law's create more problems than sons and daughters. Adding personalities perceived as outside the direct family can create tensions and conflict minimized by keeping it in the family.
What items were bought for has little to do with what it can sell for now. Appraisals for insurance purposes reflect values typically received only if there is a fire or the items are stolen. Trying to actually sell things for those values may easily yield half or less. The market during the past 10 to 20 years is greatly devalued items such as antiques, furniture, china, silver and collectibles. This has a lot to do with the changing tastes of the next generation from prior generations.
-Contributing writer Steven H. Malach, Attorney, Partner at Lipson|Neilson
Steven H. Malach heads the Lipson Neilson law firm’s estate planning practice group and the Center For Estate Planning. Mr. Malach specializes in elder law, estate planning, probate litigation, wills, trusts, and probate and trust administration.