Avoiding Conflicts Over Personal Property in an Estate With a Property List

When planning an estate, the last thing any of us wants is to leave a situation where our families are fighting over property. All too often, however, that happens. What gets people fighting over stuff in an estate?

  1. Sentimental value. If an item has been passed from one generation to another, or it’s an item that has a lot of memories associated with it, it can be hard to let go of those items. Sometimes letting go of an heirloom might be best, but it can be easier said than done.
  2. Monetary value. There’s no question that some items are going to have significant monetary value, and some may haveĀ additional value based on their ages, and when there’s valuable property, there will likely be people that want it.
  3. Unresolved tensions. Most families don’t get along perfectly. If family members are prone to quarrels, or if mom always liked one of the siblings better, those tensions can come to a head quickly in these situations.

You can’t control what other people do, especially after you’ve passed on, but there are some things you can do to help head off these sorts of fights.

First, under Missouri law, you can make a separate list for the distribution of personal property that isn’t specifically listed in the will. This makes handling personal property in a will much easier. That keeps the will focused on general allocations and dispositions of the big pieces of property without having to make provisions for every item of personal property you have. It also keeps you from having to update your will when your property changes.

Here’s how that works:

  • The list supplements the will, not replaces it. For this kind of list to work, you have to specifically refer to it in the will.
  • Not everything can be disposed of in the list. The statute specifically says that cash, evidence of debt, title documents, securities, and any property used in trade or business cannot be disposed of in a list.
  • The list must be handwritten or, if typed (and for people like me with terrible handwriting, that’s probably the way to go), it needs to be signed. Either way, it must be dated.
  • The property should be described with “reasonable certainty.” The question I ask is, could a regular person whom you’ve never met take the list, walk into your home, and identify the items? If so, you’ve probably described it well enough.
  • The list can be done after the will is executed, and can be changed after its initial preparation.
  • To make it easy to find, it’s probably best to store the list with your will.

A list like that can help, but it’s only part of the solution. It’s also important to get some sense of what items have value to your family. Don’t assume that your family isn’t interested in items; you might be surprised at what’s important to them.

There are a few different ways to figure out what the beneficiaries of your estate value, but all of them involve communication. Whether you have your family members list items, mark things with dots, or hold some sort of auction, the point is to find out what items important to your family members and work out any disagreements ahead of time, if possible.

Photo credit: Flickr user Generation Bass, https://www.flickr.com/photos/generationbass/5415099282/, licensed under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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