Your Personal Property in Estate Planning

November 28, 2023
Illustration of senior giving vintage pocketwatch to smiling boy.

Suppose that your estate plan is all set. A well-crafted estate plan will take care of your home, savings, and investments. It ensures that your loved ones receive any estate items of significant value fairly and efficiently. Having a solid estate plan in place can also help protect your legacy for your loved ones.

You may be curious about what could go wrong when you've taken the necessary steps to prepare. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that many things can go awry with one’s personal belongings. You likely haven’t included every possession in your will or trust, so who gets to keep those items after you pass is going to be up to you personally.

Spend some time thinking about how you want to share your possessions with your family and friends when you’re gone. You may likely find that it gives you even greater peace of mind.

Items of Sentimental Value

Your loved ones may connect to memories of you through your things in deeply emotional ways. Of course, this might have nothing to do with the actual cash value of the items.

A bowl in which you served breakfast to a now adult child may have matchless sentimental meaning. Likewise, a piece of costume jewelry or a well-remembered sweater can provide a sense of connection for a loved one.

You also may have a number of items that are in fact quite valuable. You may want to consider a plan that will allocate certain valuable items as equitably as possible among your family members. Otherwise, these items could turn into flashpoints that create lasting disputes among your loved ones.

Be sure to take the necessary steps to avoid arguments about verbal promises that you may or may not have made. Perhaps it makes sense to pass along certain personal effects to family or friends during your lifetime. That way, you help prevent arguments and also be there to witness the happiness a particular item brings to your loved one. You may also choose to protect especially valuable possessions from going missing toward the end of your life or after you pass.

Detailed Documentation

Take care to document clearly where and to whom you would like your items to end up after you're gone. Here are some suggestions to make that more possible.

Assess which of your possessions have actual cash value. If you own items like an Impressionist painting or a vintage diamond ring, get them appraised. Then consider how you might apportion the value of such items if you are seeking to treat family members equally.

It might make sense to sell such items and divide the proceeds. Or a family member might wish to buy the item from your estate.

Grouping your possessions into clusters can make the gift process more efficient, too. Keep matching items together, like the dining room furniture, family china, your stamp collection, or an antique bedroom set.

You may also take some time to draft a detailed memorandum outlining the individuals to whom you’d like to pass along specific personal possessions. This document may not be legally binding, but it could provide your loved ones with guidance that they may appreciate and take to heart.

Note that certain items require special arrangements. For example, you may have a firearm that is a family heirloom. In this case, executing a gun trust can help seamlessly transfer ownership to an heir.

Communication is Critical in Estate Planning

Create opportunities to communicate with your family about what is most important to you; there are many ways to go about this.

For example, take photos of your most cherished personal possessions and think about how you'd like to offer them to your loved ones. You can circulate the photos to one person at a time and give them the option to choose what they would like. Then keep a list, and the photos with the agreed designations, together with your will.

Again, your estate planning papers are only a piece of the puzzle. How you decide to leave tangible pieces of family history to your loved ones matters just as much. For instance, many of us might treasure a faded rose from a wedding bouquet or hold onto a handwritten recipe card from a loved one who has passed away.

Take care in passing along your personal things to your family members and friends. They will be even more likely to remember you with warmth and respect.

Conversations about estate planning and how to pass your personal possessions on to your family can sometimes be difficult to start. Seek out a qualified estate planning attorney in your area who can help guide you. These professionals have the expertise to navigate discussions between you and your loved ones to ensure everyone understands your wishes. At the same time, they can assist in creating or reviewing an estate plan that best fits your unique situation.