Avoiding Family Heirloom Disputes

November 17, 2015

Avoiding family heirloom disputesFamily heirlooms come in all shapes and sizes – from jewelry to art, fine china to family photos.  Determining how to fairly divide these family heirlooms among your loved ones, after your death, can be very challenging.  Unless you provide very specific instructions in your will or other estate planning documents, your executor will be left without any assistance.  Avoiding family heirloom disputes can be accomplished with some planning.
Using Personal Property Memos
A personal property memo is a written statement, referred to in a last will and testament, used to leave tangible personal property not specifically disposed of in the will to the beneficiaries. Often this is used to keep certain items out of public knowledge in the probate process.   A personal property memo can be revised or modified without having to execute your will again.  However, the memo is not considered an amendment to the will.
How to Ensure Equitable Distribution of Heirlooms
Typically, when it comes to family heirlooms, there are a few items with greater value than others.  This can make equitable distribution between family members more of a challenge.  However, there are few strategies that can be useful.  Of course, the most direct way is to make specific bequests to your heirs and discuss your decisions with them while you are still living.  If your children are happy with your choices, then the likelihood of a dispute over these items after your death can be greatly decreased.  But, what should be done if there are family heirlooms that are not specifically bequeathed, for whatever reason?
Alternative methods of distributing family heirlooms
Without any specific instructions, in many cases the appointed executor or trustee will determine who to divide the family heirlooms at his or her own discretion.  Another method, which is useful in avoiding family disputes, is to allow the beneficiaries to divide the heirlooms amongst themselves by agreement. If there are any particular items that cannot be agreed upon, the executor or trustee can make the decision.  Beneficiaries can also select the heirlooms by drawing lots in equal shares, with any inequities to be resolved by cash payments.  Similarly, the executor can hold a silent auction.
Reaching the ultimate goal
Ultimately, when a loved one passes away, the surviving family should not spend time fighting over their personal property.  Instead, it is a time to be supportive to one another and to celebrate the life well-spent.  By planning ahead, with the assistance of an estate planning attorney, you can prevent many of the potential challenges inherent in distributing an estate, including family heirlooms, and avoid family squabbles of these important items.
If you have questions regarding family heirlooms, or any other legacy planning needs, please contact Anderson, Dorn & Rader, Ltd., either online or by calling us at (775) 823-9455.

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