When it comes to estate planning, people tend to focus more of their attention on large items and accounts such as real estate, business interests, and investment accounts. When this happens, personal possessions that might seem mundane and a part of everyday life are often overlooked.
It’s these day-to-day objects, however, that can lead to some of the biggest arguments among loved ones of someone who has passed away. These items – articles of clothing, framed photos, collectibles – often hold much more sentimental value for our loved ones after we have passed than we recognize while we are alive.
It’s also difficult to determine what’s fair when it comes to how personal items are divided. How do you assign a value to an old musical instrument or a worn T-shirt that multiple family members want to keep?
The best way to make decisions regarding sentimental items and personal property is to talk with your loved ones while you’re still alive, in good health, and in a good place to make these types of decisions ahead of time. Although it may be a difficult conversation to start, ask your adult children which items they want and why. You can also ask them what they think other family members should have. You might gain new insight from this, perhaps that your adult daughter thinks her brother should inherit a particular book that was important to him as a child.
The other big benefit in having these conversations is that it gives you the chance to share stories and memories that are tied to these gifts (and the perfect opportunity to write the stories down).
Also consider these questions:
- Do you want to include in-laws in the decision-making?
- What happens to personal items if a parent remarries?
- When is the right/best time to begin the actual transfer? The worst time is usually immediately after a funeral, when family members are still in a state of shock.
After making these choices, you will want to incorporate them into your estate planning documentation. Depending on which state you live in and your situation, you may wish to draft and sign a “personal property memorandum.” This is a list of items and who you wish to inherit them. You should mention the existence of this memorandum in your will, but you can change this document as often as you need without having to update your will.
For help creating your estate plan, contact us at Wilson and Wilson Estate Planning and Elder Law, LLC at 708 482 7090 for our main office in LaGrange, Illinois or at 847 656 8958 for our Northbrook, Illinois office.