Personal Possessions. Those writing a Last Will and Testament, as we say in the law, often overlook “personalty”. We tend to focus on the money aspect of our estate: who will get our accounts, our IRA’s, our life insurance policies. We don’t spend time thinking about who will get our possessions. This is a mistake, and it could severely damage family harmony after you pass on.
Your Personal Possessions May Have Great Sentimental Value To Others
Clients often say to me, “I don’t have anything. Just a bunch of stuff. The kids can take whatever they want. Let them work it out.” What you fail to realize is that some of that “stuff” has great emotional value to one or more of your children. While this generation may not be interested in any of your antiques, they might fight to the death over a book that you read to them, nightly, when they were small. How about that holiday platter that is put out every Thanksgiving? And those holiday tree ornaments? They may seem insignificant to you, but they are of great emotional and sentimental value to your children. Do you really want them to “work it out”? How will they feel about each other afterward? Will anyone be hurt?
What is “Fair”?
Many Last Wills merely say that personalty is to be divided “equally” among the kids. Think about that.While “equal” may sound fair, how is that to be carried out by your Executor? Does equal mean monetary value? Most of these items have no monetary value. Are you going to pay for every little item to be appraised? Are the number of items “equal”? Some items are larger than others! Weight?
What Does “Fair” Mean To Your Family?
“Equal” may not be fair when it comes to personal possessions. It is not a practical solution. Every family is different. Has something worked for your family in the past? How about a lottery system? Another way is to allow each family member to choose an item one at a time, in a specific, agreed upon order. Oldest to youngest? Is it agreeable that what was a gift to you goes back to the child who gave it to you (there may be some justice here!)? Spend some time and think about this.
Another suggested way is to talk to your children. What does each child really want? Which is that one special, sentimental item that they would like to have? If no one else wants it, put it in your Last Will. If others also want it, see if you can work it out by giving another “must have” item. Do you have a long list? Consider a Will clause calling for your personal property to be divided in accordance with a memo that you write and keep with your Last Will. In New Jersey, you can do this. All you have to do is refer to it in your Last Will, and date and sign the memo.
It is more important that you keep family harmony after you are gone. It’s more important than your stuff.