When making an estate plan, don't overlook sentimental items

This article looks at estate planning issues surrounding personal items with high sentimental value.

When it comes to estate planning most people tend to focus on the big-ticket items, like the real estate, pensions, stocks, vehicles, and so on. That focus on property that has a high monetary value is understandable since many people want to ensure their heirs are provided for after they pass on. However, what often gets overlooked when planning an estate are personal items that may not have much in the way of monetary value, but have quite a bit of sentimental value. These items should not be treated as simply an afterthought in one's estate plan since many estate disputes arise because of disagreements about who gets such personal items.

Why personal items matter

Personal items are typically small, tangible items that may not have much value to most people, but which could matter a great deal to one's heirs. An old photo album, a family Bible, or a piece of jewelry, for example, may not have much monetary value, but they will likely hold quite a bit of sentimental value for family members. In fact, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette, disagreements over who gets which personal items is second only to disinheritance for causing family disputes after a loved one passes away.

Mistakes to avoid

When deciding who gets those personal items in an estate plan, it is important to avoid being vague or creating potential pitfalls for loved ones. As the New York Times points out, simply instructing heirs to divide the personal items equally is inviting trouble since it can be especially difficult (if not impossible) to determine what "equal" means when the only value such items have are sentimental.

Another mistake to avoid is to specify that items that are stored at one location (such as a storage locker) belong to one person while items stored at another location (such as a home) belong to another person. The reason this instruction can fail is because it is usually easy for one heir to move items from one location to another or for an heir to accuse the other one of doing so.

Personal property statement

The best way to avoid such disputes is with a distribution of personal property statement. Such a statement is essentially a list of personal items and instructions specifying who they are intended for after one passes on. It is best to consult an estate planning attorney when creating a personal property statement to ensure that the statement is complete and has a better chance of helping loved one avoid disputes later on.

Estate planning law

When creating an estate plan, including deciding who gets which personal items, an estate planning attorney can help in a number of ways. An experienced attorney can assist clients with crafting an estate plan that protects their best wishes and which ensures that their loved ones are better protected for the future.