When people undertake the estate planning process in California, they tend to focus on the major assets: the house, other real estate, bank accounts and investments. Too often they overlook the things they own that have little monetary value but a lot of sentimental value. Things like a mother's wedding ring or an old family portrait should be addressed in one's estate plan in order to avoid unnecessary conflict with heirs.
Many wills leave the testator's estate to his or her spouse, and if the spouse has not survived, in equal shares to the children. This works well with items that can be easily divided, like bank accounts, or sold and the proceeds divided, like real estate. It doesn't work so well with dad's pocket watch or mom's violin.
Some executors have begun using software to make division of sentimental property less contentious. One popular software tool allows heirs to assign monetary and sentimental value to each item, and then take turns picking items in rounds.
Talking to the kids ahead of time is one of the best ways to avoid disputes over family heirlooms. It may turn out that only one child is interested in the antique china, but everyone wants the painting that hung above the fireplace. Parents can then explain who will get what and why, and they can try to make sure everyone gets something they want.
The distribution of personal items is a little easier in California, because a written list can be used to distribute items of tangible personal property outside the will. We'll discuss the requirements of such a list in next week's post.
Source: New York Times, "When Dividing Assets, the Little Things Matter," Paul Sullivan, April 15, 2016