Estate Planning and Personal Effects

Who gets mom's wedding ring?! When clients hire me to create their estate planning documents, we have a thorough conversation about their assets, how they are held, and to whom they want them to go to. This conversation is focused primarily on the large assets, such as the family home, retirement accounts, insurance policies, other properties and investment accounts. Part of the initial estate planning process is to really look at these and then clearly designate beneficiaries.

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Inevitably during this discussion, the client’s personal effects come up. In Colorado, personal effects, such as grandmother’s antique ring, grandfather’s favorite chair, mom’s jewelry, dad’s watch, etc., can be designated in a separate Memorandum of Personal Effects that is incorporated into the Will by reference. This allows my clients to keep a running inventory of bequests and beneficiaries for personal times that can be changed over time.

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I provide this memorandum as part of the estate planning notebook I create for my clients. The Memorandum, referenced in the Will, is binding and it simply has to be dated and signed. This allows the personal representative or family members peace of mind and ease. It avoids the stress and conflict of having to figure out who gets what. An analogy I recently read about in the New York Times is that without this Memorandum, its like waking up to a house full of kids on Christmas morning and having no name tags on any of the wrapped gifts – chaos!  To read this article click here.

The article, references a workbook called Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate, by Marlene Stum. She says that the process starts with recognizing that dividing up a loved ones’ belongings is laden with emotions and can be a real mine field for family members and friends. The workbook helps sort out the process by helping people:

  • Determine what you want to accomplish, decide what's fair to your family.
  • Understand belongings have different meanings to different individuals.
  • Consider distribution options and consequences
  • Agree to manage conflicts if they arise.

To learn more about this workbook, click here.

In representing my probate clients, I have seen sibling relationships torn apart because they don’t agree about how to divide up the personal property of the deceased.   My clients that are appointed as personal representatives really struggle, during a time of personal grieving, to try to figure out how to divvy up personal effects fairly, without hurt feelings.

All of this can be avoided with an estate plan that provides for a Memorandum of Personal Effects. I advise my clients to use this Memorandum as a living, breathing document that they can continue to add to and change as time goes by. So when a loved one expresses a sentimental attachment to a certain item, my client can simply add that to their Memorandum and know that that beneficiary will receive that heirloom.