It tends to be the personal items with sentimental value that cause the greatest problems within a family when it is time to divide a loved one’s estate. Oftentimes when creating estate planning documents, individuals tend to disregard these personal items and focus on their bigger assets. This leaves family members to divvy up sentimental items on their own, and at an already highly emotional time, this can be extremely difficult and cause conflict. A recent article in The New York Times addresses the idea that when dividing assets, the little things matter.
The article includes input from Marlene Stum, a professor in the Family Social Science Department at the University of Minnesota. She is also the author of “Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate?” She says that the process starts with “really recognizing how it’s not simple or trivial but laden with emotions.” Stum advises that one of the most important pieces to divvying up sentimental items peacefully is to use a fair process. Furthermore, it is important that all family members are in agreement with the process and that the process is followed through. You will be much more likely to accept that another family member received an item that you wanted if it was done through a fair process and not simply because that family member happened to get there first and take the item.
Parents often believe that the children will sort everything out on their own and therefore do not put in the time and energy to carefully designate and select personal property. In the New York Times article John A. Warnick, estate lawyer and founder of the Purposeful Planning Institute says, “I ask parents to think just for a second what it would be like on Christmas morning if your children ran downstairs and there were all of these presents, bright and shining, big and small, but with no name tags on them. Can you imagine the free-for-all that would ensue?” It will likely save the family future conflict if parents decide ahead of time in a way that is perceived as fair by all of the children.
For those who are left to divide a parent’s person items on their own, there are tools to use that make the process fair and simple. One of these tools is called FairSplit. FairSplit limits personal contact and puts the selection process online. In short, “The tool uses selection rounds so that each child or grandchild can pick the things they want, assigning more points to the things they covet. This system can be set up to allow certain family members to go before others – say children before stepchildren – or to allow heirs to pick up to a certain number of items in each round using a system of 500 points to bid for them.”
As with all planning, it is always best to set up a system for dividing all assets, including sentimental personal items, ahead of time. Please feel free to contact today the Long Island estate planning lawyers at Tully & Winkelman, P.C. for assistance with any of your planning needs.