FROM THE DESK OF:
Attorney Jack Alpern
After practicing estate planning law for 40 years and having dealt with many families after loved ones have passed away, I continue to be stunned by the amount of family conflict which arises about “who gets what”
when it comes to household goods and personal belongings. Many of us do not realize that the division of so-called little things – jewelry, collections, paintings, pictures, tools – can fracture families when parents pass away. Arguments often erupt even before the departed loved one is buried. Many times, families never speak to each other
after the dust settles. How sad!
All of this can be avoided by clearly spelling out in your estate planning documents – wills or trusts – how these specific things should be disposed of. The expression “fair does not necessarily mean equal” often comes to mind for me in advising clients how these items should be divided. Can’t decide who should get what? Well, one solution is to let the children draw straws to see who gets to select an item first, followed by a selection of one item at a time by each person. It is important to remember that you must define an “item”; that is, does an item mean just one piece or does it apply to a set of pieces (for example, a dining room table and chairs)? Another way to handle the situation is to
hold an auction among family members, with each person bidding, and the highest bidder wins.
In any event, it is also important to spell out in your will or trust whether or not the value of the item selected by an heir gets subtracted from his or her share.
When it comes to disposing of personal possessions at death, the worst thing we can do…is nothing!