Top Ten Ideas for Passing on Personal Belongings and Property Inheritance

This is a guide of 10 basic ideas that provide the executor or trust administrator with practical information about property inheritance.
Everyone has personal belongings such as baby pictures, a favorite afghan or a casserole dish that hold memories for them and their family members. Passing on to family members these treasured items can be challenging, and may lead to family conflict.
This is a guide of 10 basic ideas that provide the executor or trust administrator with practical information about the inheritance of personal property.
1. Know that the decisions about personal belongings are often more challenging than decisions about titled property. Be mindful that these decisions are very important and can lead to family misunderstandings and conflicts.
2. Objects accumulated over a lifetime and across generations of family members have emotional and potential financial value. Your property inheritance decisions can have huge consequences emotional as well as economic.
3. Planning ahead prior to a crisis or death allows a chance for thoughtful communication and offers more choices. Unfortunately much of the time this is no longer an option an executor or trustee has a very important responsibility in dealing with property inheritance.
4. When decisions are not made prior to death, the trust administrator or executor should do their best to make decisions that would reflect the owner’s wishes. Issues of power and control can appear in inheritance decisions. Unresolved conflicts among parents, adult children, siblings, and others are often at the heart of what goes wrong with property inheritance decisions. Listen for feelings and emotions, watch for blaming, and determine if you can agree to disagree if conflicts arise.
5. Remember that family members have different perceptions of what’s “fair” or what is expected. The executor or trust administrator needs to uncover the unwritten rules and assumptions about fairness that exist among family members.
6. Being fair does not always mean being equal. In fact, dividing personal property equally is sometimes impossible. Problems can be exacerbated if siblings think one child has been favored unreasonably.
7. Individuals who have input and agree on how decisions are made are more likely to feel the outcomes of those decisions are fair. A frank conversation with all interested persons together in one room can go a long way to answer questions and encourage cooperation.
8. Discussing what those involved want to accomplish helps reduce mistaken assumptions, misunderstood intentions, and makes choosing distribution options easier. You may want to consider allowing family members to set their own values on items they want.
9. Identifying items that have special meaning can help avoid inaccurate assumptions about who should get what. Not everyone will find the same items meaningful. Author David Altshuler prepared an article “The Sentimental Auction.” His idea is to allow each of the beneficiaries to “bid” on the decedents personal items. The bids are based on sentimental value, not market value.
10. As a last resort, an item that cannot be divided-or will be the subject of family strife may need to be sold and the proceeds distributed.

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