Often times when a relative dies it is not the financial assets that can break a family apart, it is the little things that cause the most animosity.
Recently I read an article about an item that had caused a huge argument in a family when a grandmother died. It was not the jewelry, crystal or money that the siblings bickered about. Instead, it was a little red bowl that their grandmother used to serve them cereal every time they slept over at her house as young children.
The siblings, who were in their thirties at the time when grandma passed away, were unable to come to a compromise regarding the bowl. To try to end the bickering, their mother decided to keep the bowl for herself.
This is not uncommon, as these little things are not so “little”. Financial assets generally can be divided easily amongst heirs but tangible personal property is more difficult. Most people don’t realize how complex it can be to distribute a lifetime’s worth of possessions. Fighting over dad’s tools, mom’s favorite quilt or grandma’s holiday dishes can literally tear a family apart. More often than not, the item in question has sentimental value instead of substantial material value because of the emotional attachment one feels to the object that symbolizes the person they are mourning.
Including an “Assignment of Personal Effects”, which identifies sentimental items and who you want to receive them, in your estate planning documents is one way to avoid family members fighting over them. It is always best to consult an estate planning attorney for assistance with preparing your estate planning documents so that you can protect what matters in your life!
Linda M. Strohschein