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Distributing Personal Possessions

Organizing and planning an estate is not a simple process. After deciding who should receive major assets like your house, business, investments, and retirement accounts, you may need to use a variety of vehicles to distribute those assets, such as wills, gifts, and trusts. Dealing with major assets may be so time consuming that you don’t even think about your personal possessions, leaving distribution decisions up to your heirs. But disputes over personal possessions are more apt to cause conflict among heirs than disputes over money. Some items to consider include:

  • Take time to think about who should receive treasured personal possessions. You might want to detail your wishes in a separate letter to your heirs to prevent disagreements. Indicate why you are distributing those possessions in that manner.

  • Ask your heirs what possessions are important to them. Otherwise, you may inadvertently give a treasured possession to one child without realizing its importance to another child. Children may then try to read motives into your decisions that didn’t actually exist.

  • Don’t distribute assets based on arbitrary criteria. You don’t necessarily have to give your jewelry to your daughter or your tools to your son. You son might want to pass on some of your jewelry to his wife or daughter. Likewise, don’t give your most valued possessions to your oldest child without considering younger siblings.

  • Devise a method for heirs to distribute personal possessions. You probably won’t want to decide how every personal possession should be distributed. After you have determined how to distribute your most valued possessions, detail a method for heirs to distribute the rest of your possessions. It can be as simple as having heirs take turns selecting items or flipping a coin if more than one person is interested in an item.

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