Legal Blog

The Weekly Scenario from Steve Shane – 9.30.13

Question:  My parents are not particularly wealthy, but they have a number of items that have significant sentimental value (as opposed to real value).  How do we deal with the disposition of these items now in a way that mitigates the conflict down the road when they both pass away? Answer:  So called ‘tangible personal property’, which includes such things as jewelry, clothing, silverware, china, cars, artwork, household furnishings, among other personal possessions, is commonly the reason for family disharmony following a parent’s death.  Whether or not the property has actual value, for whatever reason the fact that one sibling has it or wants it, creates conflict and often results in conflict that is disproportionately greater than the real value of the property at stake.  Depending on the family dynamic, what is fair often lies in the beholder. If there are items that are likely to generate some ‘heated’ discussions, it is a good idea to plan the distribution of these items out in advance. There are different ways to handle the selection process.  Drawing straws, a private auction or round robin can be employed.  For example, if there is one child who is wealthier than another and could outbid a sibling on any given day, an auction style may not be prudent. Often times it is difficult to select items which have equal value (i.e., it is hard to split that painting in the foyer).  If one child is slated to receive the painting, the other child could receive cash or a mix of other property.  The key issue is whether the client wants the disparity specifically addressed in the Will or whether the client prefers to leave it up to the Personal Representative (at his discretion) and in essence stay ‘out of it.’ For items such as albums clothing and photos, an expert could be hired to digitally copy the photos or albums at the expense of the estate. Comment:  There are many solutions to deal with the disposition of tangible personal property.  The question always boils down to what is most important to the client. Steven E. Shane Principal Offit│Kurman Attorneys At Law 301.575.0313 Washington 443.738.1513 Baltimore 410.218.9339 Mobile 301.575.0335 Facsimile Please note the above material discussed is intended to provide only general information. Do not, under any circumstances, solely rely on this information as legal advice. Legal matters are often complicated. For assistance with your specific legal problem or inquiry please contact me directly.