When you’re making an estate plan, it’s easy to become so focused on making sure your large assets go to the appropriate individuals that you don’t pay enough attention to what should happen to your personal possessions. After all, your household “stuff” isn’t that valuable, so there’s no real need to address it as thoroughly as you do your big, financial assets, right? Wrong!
Even though your personal possessions might not have much monetary value, certain items are likely to have an immense amount of emotional and sentimental value to your loved ones. In fact, it’s often the seemingly insignificant pieces of property that can spark the biggest estate disputes, often sending family members to court in search of a resolution.
How can you avoid this situation? Make sure your estate plan includes a workable method for dividing up your personal possessions among your loved ones. There are several options for doing this, including:
- Making a List. If you know that certain family members are attached to specific items of your property, you can make a list of which item goes to which recipient, and keep it with your estate plan. Better yet, if your family is open to it, have a discussion concerning who would like which items of your personal property and allow everyone to agree on the distribution before making your list. When everyone knows what to expect, the chances for conflict are reduced.
- Providing for a Rotation. For those items that you don’t list (or instead of making a list), you can establish a rotation for your family members to use in choosing items of property. You provide the order in which each loved one will choose an item of property, and the rotation continues until each possession is claimed.
- Letting Your Loved Ones Decide. If you don’t anticipate conflict, you can provide that your loved ones work among themselves to divide personal property that’s not specifically mentioned in your Will or Trust. What if squabbles arise? You can provide for a neutral third party to make the final decision if two or more loved ones are deadlocked over a possession.
Your estate planning attorney can help you choose the method that’s likely to be most workable for your family, and can help you structure your plan so that you avoid common pitfalls when it comes to dividing personal possessions.