Estate planning involves more than just deciding who will receive your cash and personal property after your death. A mistake that some clients make is overlooking the potential for family disputes, particularly over heirlooms. Heirlooms often have more sentimental value than monetary value. Part of determining how to distribute your assets after death includes distributing heirlooms that need to be kept in the family and passed on through the generations. More importantly, it is important to know what you can do to avoid estate disputes between siblings.
Put your instructions in writing and be specific
Even if you have already discussed with your children how they feel about your certain personal belongings, their feelings could very easily change in the future. This is especially true when memories fade. While you may not need to specifically bequeath every single personal item you own to someone in particular, the meaningful bequests should be written down in detail. Preserving your wishes on these matters will be important to you and your heirs later on. It can also help to prevent estate disputes between siblings later on.
Appraising your heirlooms is important
The traditional definition of a family heirloom is a specific item that has been passed down through the generations or that you intend to pass down in that way. The first step should be to determine the monetary value of these items by getting the items appraised. Depending on the type of heirlooms you have, there are various dealers available to provide an appraisal. Antique dealers, fine art dealers, historical or rare book dealers, all have the expertise required to provide an accurate appraisal of your property. If you need help finding one, there are professional organization, such as Art Dealers Association of America, International Fine Print Dealers Association, Private Art Dealers Association, or the National Antique and Art Dealers Association of America, which can be very useful.
Avoiding estate disputes between siblings regarding heirlooms
A personal property memo is one way to avoid a dispute over these prized possessions. A personal property memo is basically a written statement referred to in a last will and testament, which can be used to leave personal property to beneficiaries. Often personal property memos are used to keep certain items confidential and outside of the probate process. A personal property memo can be revised or modified without the need of executing your will again.
How to ensure equitable distribution of your estate
When it comes to estate property, there may be some items that have greater value than others. This can make equitable distribution between heirs more challenging. However, there are a few strategies that can be useful. Of course, the most direct way is to make specific bequests to your heirs and discuss your decisions with them while you are still living. If your children agree with your choices, then the likelihood of a dispute over these items after your death can be greatly reduced. But, what should be done if there are family heirlooms that are not specifically bequeathed, for whatever reason?
Alternative methods of distributing assets
Without your specific instructions, your appointed executor or trustee will be required to determine how to divide the assets, at his or her own discretion. Another way to avoid family disputes is to allow the beneficiaries to divide the assets amongst themselves by agreement. If there are any specific items about which they cannot agree, the executor or trustee can then make the decision. Your beneficiaries can also choose the heirlooms by drawing lots in equal shares, with any inequalities to be resolved through cash payments. As an alternative, the executor can hold a silent auction.
Include a “No-Contest Clause” to discourage estate disputes between siblings
Some states allow you to include a “No-Contest Clause” in your will or trust. This provision effectively discourages family disputes over inheritances because any of your heirs who choose to contest the Will, will not be entitled to receive any part of the inheritance.
Ultimately, when you pass away, your family should not waste time fighting over your personal property. Instead, it is a time for them to be supportive to one another and to celebrate your life. If you plan ahead, with the assistance of an estate planning attorney, you can avoid many of the potential challenges that come with distributing an estate, including avoiding family squabbles over inheritances and family heirlooms.
Join us for a free workshop today! If you have questions regarding estate disputes between siblings or any other estate planning matters, please contact the experienced attorneys at Gaughan & Connealy for a consultation. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (913) 262-2000. We are here to help!