Estate planning is usually viewed as a sea of paperwork that, once completed, sits on a shelf to collect dust. You have peace of mind that it is complete and that your family will now be harmonious upon your death because they have a well-thought-out plan to follow when executing your last wishes. However, the big issues that tend to arise are ones that do not have a monetary value that can be divided equally among your children, they are the sentimental ones.
You assume that your children will go through your belongings and take what they want and then sell, donate, or throw away the rest. You do not anticipate your children’s emotions and grief taking over as they go through your things. Then the bickering and infighting over costume jewelry begins because it was mom’s daily earrings, or dad’s favorite hat, items with sentimental value. If the children cannot decide together how to distribute those sentimental items, the conflict can, and frequently does, end up in court.
There are a few ways that the tension that develops over division of personal property can be avoided. A local California probate judge suggests that the children could all be brought into the attorney’s office at the beginning of the estate planning process so that they could express their wishes for receiving certain items. Once ascertained, those items and gifts could be written right into the estate plan. This method will only work if the parties seeking to complete their estate plan are comfortable with inviting their children into the process.
As an alternative, the parents could just sit down with their children at home and have the same discussion. Once the items or gifts are hashed out at the dinner table, the parents can then let their estate planning attorney know what to include in their documents. Other common ways to make gifts of personal property include a memorandum that you can fill out over time and update periodically, usually a blank document included in your estate plan and you do not need to meet with your attorney to update; and the popular Post-It method, where you can write a child’s name on a Post-It note and place the sticky note on the item your want to give to that child, or the item that child requested.
It is important to remember that even though a wedding ring or jewelry can be given a monetary valuation for the purposes of division, items like recipes, family photos, and family letters may have more sentimental value than monetary value. Those can be the most important items that you want to gift to someone because they are often irreplaceable and often overlooked in the estate planning process.
It is important to plan for heirlooms and family items because they are much more difficult to handle if they go to court because sentimental value is always priceless.