People often think that estate planning is only about deciding who gets big ticket items, such as a house, a car and a stock portfolio. However, the little items of personal property can be just as important.
A typical will often goes into great detail about a relatively small number of items. Wills carefully describe who gets particular pieces of real estate, for example. Wills often describe who gets any cash and how much they get.
The majority of assets, personal property items, are often dealt with simply by providing that they should be divided between various family members. A typical clause might state something like, “Everything else should be equally divided between my children and their descendents.”
This can be a mistake as the New York Times points out in “When Dividing Assets, the Little Things Matter.”
The problem is that the small items of tangible personal property are often the biggest source of disputes between family members. If multiple people want the same item, then they might fight about it. Parents of minor children instinctively know this.
No parent with two teenagers would bring home one iPad and tell the children to decide between themselves which one of them should have it exclusively. Adult children are not always all that different when they are told to decide between themselves who gets what.
For this reason it is important to spend some time thinking about items of tangible personal property when planning your estate. If you think certain items might be a source of contention, then you can direct who gets them beforehand. You can also suggest that family members take turns picking items or that they use some sort of service, such as software or a professional, to help divide things peacefully and equally.
A qualified estate planning attorney can help you plan an approach appropriate for your unique circumstances.
Reference: New York Times (April 15, 2016) “When Dividing Assets, the Little Things Matter.”
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