Life Care Consulting by Barbara Hance - Financial and Personal Management Service for the Elderly, Frail and the Busy
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Avoid Family Conflicts Over Family Treasures

Most people think that family arguments about estate issues are over big items. In fact, most of the time the fights are over small items, such as family keepsakes because they evoke memories of happier times.

For example, upon her death, a client's two adult children fought continuously over an old '78 record collection. In the heat of battle, in front of a probate judge, the son lost control and decided to settle the dispute by breaking several of the records in half and giving his sister one half and he the other half. Thus, he destroyed part of the collection each desperately wanted. The real tragedy was that the family relationship was damaged forever.

The potential for confrontations can be avoided or minimized by making decisions about family treasures in advance.

One client told family members, after giving them color-coded stickers, to apply stickers underneath items they treasured. The problem was that family members, over time, started replacing others' stickers with their own. The post-funeral reception, where family antd friends are supposed to comfort each other, turned out to be great material for a National Lampoon movie.

Here are a few: steps to help you decide who gets what and avoid major hassles.

  1. Initiate a conversation. Children often avoid bringing up the subject of death. By making a request that family members communicate their interests in specific items and reasons for wanting them, you can decide based on their reasons how items should be distributed. You'll be surprised at the items requested --some may be worthless monetarily but invaluable emotionally.

    -If-you anticipate a conflict over an item, you have an even greater incentive to direct its transfer before you die, thereby reducing the chance of a rift ,in the family.. Emotions can run high with the death of a loved one.
  2. Decide what is fair. Should the distribution of items be based on monetary value? Should gifts be returned to the givers? Keep in mind that some gifts cannot be divided equally. Do you want "equitable" or "equal"? Should birth order, special needs, marital status or other factors be considered?
  3. Decide methods of distributing property. Some people gift items on special occasions, such as weddings, birthdays, graduations, etc., during their lifetime. Others direct the method of distribution in a legal memorandum attached to their will. The only way to ensure that a family member receives a specific item is to direct that distribution during one's lifetime.
  4. Recognize that some items may have special significance to someone, and something that means a great deal to you may mean nothing to someone else. No one may want your collection of matchbooks, but everyone may want the family photo album.
  5. Make a list of items and who will receive each one. Then discuss your choices with your family so that there will be no surprises later.

Write your instructions and state in the document that your goals are in making these transfers of personal property. For example, you may want to ensure that family members are still talking after distribution, that items not wanted be donated to your favorite charity or sold and proceeds go to a named charity, that family members cooperate and adhere to your wishes, etc. Some people don't want their things on pubic display in an estate sale.

By recognizing the sensitivity of this task and the emotional strain on your family, you can avoid additional trauma by simply taking care of this problem in advance. Your family will be grateful for your thoughtfulness.

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