The Stuff that Fights are Made of

Estate planning is important. Many of us have assets we want to pass along to our loved ones, easily. Many wish to leave their estate equally to their children. Perhaps they do this to be fair or they believe an equal distribution will circumvent a fight. Assets like financial accounts are easy to divide. But what about the other assets and the “stuff”?

In most cases, real property like the family home is sold and proceeds are divided amongst the beneficiaries. Sometimes, one beneficiary receives the home as part of his/her distribution and others receive an equal distribution from the trust/estate, comprised of cash and/or other assets. Sometimes real property is distributed outright equally to the individual beneficiaries. For some, this last option can work but for most, joint ownership is filled with sticky situations. Individuals are now responsible for their share of the expenses and upkeep which can cause family tension and arguments. Multiple people now have decision making power. Sometimes the group of decision makers now includes a child who may not be good with money or responsible. In California, an individual owner can force the sale of the property at any time which means arguments may turn into lawsuits. The idea of maintaining a place for the kids to come home to is nice, but not always possible.

In some cases, family members don’t fight over the money or the real estate but over the tangible personal property, the “stuff” like the antique lace or diamond ring. In some families, it is the Nobel Peace prize, one item of many tangible personal property items now at the center of a dispute among the children of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his estate. When you are planning your estate, think about the tangible personal property you own. If there is something of great value, sentimentally or nominally, be sure you specify who is to receive it or how it is to be disposed. Doing so will make things a lot easier for your trustee, executor and loved ones.

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