My wife’s family is currently dealing with her grandfather making a permanent move to a nursing home that has highlighted an area of estate planning I believe is often overlooked.
What do you do with all of the “stuff”?
The formal estate plan has long been in order and has been reviewed and updated on a regular basis. We’re grateful knowing that everything will be handled to his precise wishes when the time comes. What to do with the personal property outside larger items, however, was never really addressed.
I’ve blogged on more than one occasion about my feelings surrounding “stuff”, but in this case, believe it deserves substantial consideration. There are items of sentimental value, items that he would like to go to specific individuals and other items that need to be donated or discarded.
Fortunately, he is still with us and able to help sort out which items belong in what pile. The process has been challenging, but no major blow ups or surprises have occurred. I can easily see where this would not be the case, though, especially where the loved one is deceased. At best, it could lead to some very uncomfortable conversations and debates amongst heirs. At worst, it could generate costly legal battles and tear families apart.
Often times when you walk through the estate plan review process, the attorney or your financial advisor will reference a checklist about how to handle personal property. This is often missed or forgotten about in favor of focusing on ensuring that assets get titled correctly, making sure all the I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed and that trustees, executors and beneficiaries are properly named. It’s understandable to take a “let the kids figure it out” attitude about the rest of the stuff, but we all have different ties to different things.
The solution? Make a video walking through your home and discuss items of significance, share stories that might be relevant to specific family members and why you’d like certain people to have certain things. For those items you don’t believe are significant, sit down with your heirs and make a list of those things that might hold some unforeseen value to them. As with most things, the more communication, the better.
No one enjoys talking about a family member’s future demise, but these conversations alleviate stress both for the ill in their final days and the families after the fact. Once these intentions are clearly thought through, sit down together as a family and make sure everyone is on the same page. You don’t want the burden to fall to the executor as to how to interpret lists and videos that few or no one has ever seen.
If there are contested items or things you want an unbiased opinion about how to divide, consult your estate planning attorney or financial advisor.
Chip Workman, CFP®