It may come as a surprise to learn that family members fighting over estates are not always concerned about large sums of money, property or expensive works of art. Often the most vicious disputes centre on family possessions that have little value to anyone not emotionally connected to the deceased.
Sometimes it is the deceased who makes things worse by being unclear in their will.
Of course every family is different but below are some suggestions for avoiding arguments and tension over personal possessions after you have passed away.
- Seek valuations for items that may be difficult to assess. That way you should be able to leave items of roughly the same value to each beneficiary.
- Do not generalize in your will or in a letter of wishes dealing with personal possessions. Terms like “share and share alike” or “all personal property” should be avoided when there are a number of beneficiaries. For example, if the estate contains a large number of pieces of jewellery then describe them accurately – e.g. my white gold and single stone diamond ring.
- Perhaps, most important, have open discussions during your lifetime about possessions you intend to leave to your children, grandchildren and others. Ask them for their views, for example what pieces they treasure most and take their answers into account when making your last will
- If you know that no matter how fair you try to be it will be no good anyway, why not expressly state that all items will be sold and the proceeds split equally.
- If you leave a valuable piece to one beneficiary, consider compensating the others accordingly with cash sums
Your executor will appreciate the care you have taken to avoid infighting.