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May 2016

Special Feature by Novy & Assoc.; Don’t Just Plan Big, Plan Small!


   Planning your estate can be a daunting, time-consuming matter.  There are many aspects that need to be considered:  the sale of real property, financial and tax planning consequences, and the overall distribution of your final estate to your named beneficiaries.  While all of these decisions may be difficult to make, estate planning and elder law attorneys are available to make your life much easier.  However, one piece that estate planning attorneys have trouble dealing with and that most people overlook during the planning stage is the determination as to who will get your personal property.  

   Personal property (or “tangible personal property”) consists of an individual’s personal items that usually go overlooked during the estate planning process, which can include jewelry, furniture, collections, artwork, clothing, vehicles, and other sentimental items.  Most people are so caught up in planning for how to best distribute their life insurance policies, bank accounts, retirement funds, and profits from the sale of their home that they sometimes completely neglect to plan for their tangible personal property.  This failure to plan can unfortunately lead to some rather unexpected results.


   Most parents want to assume their children will get along after their passing, but unfortunately this is usually not the case, even in families where siblings normally get along well with one another.  It’s not difficult to imagine a scenario where a brother and sister are going through their late mother’s belongings and suddenly stumble upon the mother’s diamond wedding ring.

The mother may not have made any provision, in her will or otherwise, discussing who will get the ring.  The sister may want the ring because it holds deep sentimental value, but the brother may also want the ring so he can sell it and collect the proceeds.  Situations like this can lead to a great deal of confusion between family members.


   How can you avoid these types of issues?  Fortunately, the answer is a relatively simple one:  just as you plan for all the big aspects of your life, plan for the small ones as well.  When working with an estate planning attorney, ask about a Letter of Instruction.  A Letter of Instruction is a document that can be formally drafted, or hand-written, in which you can specifically outline who you would like to get your belongings upon your passing.

You can leave that diamond wedding ring to your daughter and your old Cadillac to your son.  Remember to be specific; don’t say, “I leave my ring to my daughter” if you have a collection of several dozen rings.

You may also want to consider the value of items when making your list.  It is ultimately your decision as to how you want your assets distributed, but it can’t hurt to take valuation into consideration while doing so.  


   It’s also possible to avoid making a list entirely by instead having your attorney draft a provision into your will stating that all your personal items shall be sold, with the proceeds then being distributed along with the rest of your estate, or you can also specifically list only certain particular items and then stipulate that the remainder be sold.  The choice is yours, but no matter which choice you make, be sure to plan for both the big AND small assets in your life.