How to Pass on Family Heirlooms with Fewer Estate Battles

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September 8, 2023 •  The Estate & Elder Law Center of Southside Virginia, PLLC
There are better—and often more creative—ways to plan and divide that can avoid family squabbles over cars, jewelry, furniture and household items.
Robert W. Haley, managing lawyer
Robert W. Haley
Certified Elder Law Attorney® Robert W. Haley brings over 27 years of legal expertise and knowledge to his firm, which concentrates solely on the areas of elder law, estate planning (Last Will & Testaments, Durable Powers of Attorney, Health Care Powers of Attorney, Living Wills, Trusts, etc.,.) Asset Protection/Medicaid Planning and fiduciary services. For many years, Robert practiced in real estate law, and in general practice, but decided to narrow his focus to elder law and estate planning when he realized the tremendous need for proper planning to be filled in Southside Virginia.

Avoiding Family Disputes Over Heirlooms

Family feuds are more likely over Aunt Josephine’s jewelry than the family home. Putting sticky notes on personal items before you die or expecting heirs to figure things out after you’ve passed often leads to ugly and expensive disputes, says a recent article from The Wall Street Journal, “Pass On Your Heirlooms, Not Family Drama.”

Lynchburg residents from the Baby Boom generation who are handling their parents’ estates and assessing their personal property are having more conversations around inheritance and heirlooms with their own children. However, there are better ways to plan and distribute property to avoid family fights over cars, jewelry, furniture and household items. And Lynchburg Estate Planning Attorney Robert W. Haley can help you do that!

Choosing the Right Executor

The person you appoint to manage your estate, the executor, typically distributes personal property. Therefore, pick that person with care and clarify how much power they will have. An example of this comes from a police officer in Illinois who has been settling his father’s estate for nearly two years. His father owned more than twelve vehicles, a water-well drill rig and two semitrailers of car parts and guns dating back to the Civil War. He also listed 19 heirs, including stepchildren and friends. He told his son he knew he could handle everyone and the stress of people who “aren’t going to be happy.”

Clarity is Crucial

If you want a particular item to go to a specific person, make it clear in your will or trust. Describe the item in great detail and include the name of the person who should get it. A sticky note is easily removed, and just telling someone verbally that you want them to have something isn’t legally binding.

Without clear directions, one family with five siblings used a deck of cards and played high card wins for items more than one sibling wanted. Only some families have the temperament for this method.

In one estate, two sisters wanted the same ring. However, there were no directions from their late parents. An estate settlement officer at their bank had a creative solution: a duplicate ring was made, mixed up with materials from the original ring, and each daughter got one ring.

Seek Expert Advice

Experienced Lynchburg Estate Planning Attorney Robert W. Haley knows how to address personal heirlooms best in the state of Virginia if your wishes are incorporated into a will or trust. He can work with your family to identify the best solution that is both clear and legally honors your wishes. If you do not legally document how you wish to pass on your heirlooms, the personal representative for your estate can consider your wishes, but they may not be honored. Make sure to sign and date any documents you create.

Appraisal and Division

Get heirlooms appraised to decide how to divide items equitably, which to sell and what to donate. If heirs don’t want personal property, they can donate it and use the appraisal to substantiate a tax deduction. Appraisals will also be needed for estate tax and capital gains tax purposes.

Schedule a Consultation

Schedule a free call with the estate planning team at The Estate & Elder Law Center of Southside Virginia to ensure that you prevent family fights over your personal property after you're gone.

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (July 30, 2023) “Pass On Your Heirlooms, Not Family Drama”

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