My last few articles have focused on various end-of-life issues that were made very real to me due my mother-in-law’s recent death. In this article, we’ll discuss the simple steps you can take that will make dividing your personal possessions easier on your family.
In many cases, the division of personal assets gives rise to family conflicts and disputes. There’s the family china, the furniture, clothes, guns, jewelry and other collectibles. The disposition of these items is often handled in a Will or Living Trust with a statement such as “divide my personal possessions equally among my children”. But this isn’t very specific and can easily create disagreement.
The death of a loved one is always very emotional. Personal possessions take on greater significance than they ever had before. Before your death they were just knick-knacks, now they’re pieces of you that your loved ones will cling to in their time of loss. Your old rocking chair, string of pearls or favorite hunting rifle become poignant reminders of good times and pleasant memories.
They’ve lost you, but they don’t want to lose what you left behind. Anger, greed, resentment, past injustices, and more all come to the surface, mixed with the loss, shock and grief of death. In normal circumstances, these emotions would be easily controlled. But when combined with the grief of loss, things can be said and done that would make a soap opera producer blush.
Everyone has heard of families locked in legal battles for years over who gets what. Brothers and sisters refuse to talk to each other ever again because they didn’t get what they thought they deserved. Prized possessions quickly disappear as heirs go through your home, taking what they want before the others get their chance. Suspicions run high, every action comes under close scrutiny, and there’s more conniving and back stabbing than on an episode of Survivor. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The good news is that most of this emotional mess can be easily avoided. Sure, your death will still be a traumatic event, but by taking some important steps, you can greatly minimize any confusion and strife.
Instead of disposing of your personal possessions as a group in your Will or Living Trust, I suggest that you create a list separately and have your Will or Living Trust refer to it. Your attorney can help. By having a separate list it will be easy for you to keep it up to date as your situation or desires change, without having to update your entire Will. It is important that you sign and date it, though.
For example, one deceased client made a list of specific bequests shortly before her death. She even had a niece type up the list and date it. But she didn’t sign it. As a result, her wishes won’t be carried out unless all of her beneficiaries agree to them. Simply signing the list in this situation would have ensured her wishes were carried out.
In order to facilitate your wishes being carried out, it is also important that your possessions are properly safeguarded until they are divided. Protecting and safeguarding your assets is usually the job of your executor. Many times, though, the person you named as executor doesn’t know it or isn’t aware that it is their responsibility to protect your assets.
So I suggest you let the person you named know they are your executor. Let them know the location of your Will or Living Trust and where you keep the list that details how you want your personal possessions divided. Explain to them that you want them to safeguard your possessions so they can go to the person you’ve name instead of the first person to take them!
My mother-in-law is a great example. Knowing she had terminal cancer, she sat down with her family and explained how her possessions were to be divided. She let them know the location of her list. As difficult as the meeting was, it prevented countless problems after her death.
If you have a specific question or would like more information go to www.guardingyourwealth.com. You can also reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org . I will be happy to help you in any way I can.
Mr. Voudrie is a Certified Financial Planner and the President of Legacy Planning Group, Inc. , a Private Wealth Management firm in Johnson City, TN.
Nationally-syndicated financial columnist and Certified Financial Planner® Jeffrey Voudrie provides personal, in-depth money management services and advice to select private clients throughout the USA. He’ll answer your financial question – FREE at http://www.guardingyourwealth.com