Avoid Family Fights Over Heirlooms

Who gets the bearskin rug? The Limoges tea set? Dividing family heirlooms after a death can be a headache.

But pity the poor executor. Because direction on allocating specific items is rarely made explicit in wills, divisions of property can cause real heartache for the executor.

McManus & Associate, a New York law firm, has addressed ways for families to avoid fighting and to plan for dividing personal property, as well as special planning considerations for unique items such as music, cigars, Scotch and even gun collections.

Top tips include:

Personal property memos: A written statement referenced in a will and testament, and used to leave tangible personal property not specifically disposed of in the will to beneficiaries. Often, this is used to keep certain items out of public knowledge in the probate process. Edits can be made without the need to re-sign a will, but this memo is not an official codicil or amendment to the will.

Good faith searches: The executor is required to make a good faith search for property listed in the memo for a certain period, usually 30 days. Cataloging items and having appraisals done in advance can greatly reduce stress around administration of the estate.

A life estate: This allows the surviving spouse to enjoy an asset for the balance of his or her life. Upon the passing of the surviving spouse, the asset then flows back into the estate of the first spouse and passes to the first spouse’s beneficiaries (often the children of the first spouse from a first marriage).

Registrations: Ensure that the decedent has all appropriate registrations in order for the executor to take possession in the name of the estate. An old war rifle that has been passed down through the family might not be currently registered. Leaving such an item, even only overnight, with an appraiser can be a felony.

Plants and animals: To help conserve the environment and protect certain rare or endangered species of animals, certain restrictions have been put in place. The Federal Endangered Species Act, for example, prohibits owning or transporting an ever-expanding list of plants and animals. Even mounted animals such as fish or birds may not legally be transported under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

“These are a few of my favorite things—Top 10 Considerations When Planning for Tangible Personal Property” can be accessed on McManus & Associates’ website.