As you write out your estate plan, are you tempted to start with the most expensive assets and work your way down? You look at who gets the family home, your life insurance policy, your investment portfolio and your retirement fund. You consider who gets the contents of your bank account or that new car in the driveway. Maybe you have a cabin or a vacation home to add into the mix.
With that all figured out, you assume it will keep your heirs on the same page and prevent estate disputes. You leave it to them to sort out the little details, like what to do with your home furnishings, clothing and other odds and ends.
This may make sense on your end. You would assume children would fight over their fair share of your high-value assets. While they may, some experts note that it is often the sentimental assets that cause problems.
One problem is that these items often have a low monetary value. Are you really going to list out every cup, plate, shirt and piece of furniture in your house? You’re bound to forget things. It’s tempting to ignore them entirely or to use broad measures, such as telling the children to divide the assets evenly. With little value, you assume it’s not a problem.
The issue is that the sentimental ties may be stronger for children than you ever realized. This emotional attachment matters more to them than it does to you — it may not even register for you at all — and could matter more than money, especially if your children are well off.
One of the biggest reasons for conflict is when children have childhood memories that they cannot let go. These are especially strong after a parent passes away, as they think back on the good times.
For instance, perhaps you had a painting hanging in your living room. You bought it at a flea market before your kids were born. It’s worth nothing.
However, your children all associate that painting with the living room where they grew up. They remember family Christmases with it hanging on the wall, movie nights with it behind the couch and waking up in the morning to look at it before school.
Suddenly, they all want it. You liked it but never particularly cared for it. You knew it was worth nothing, so it’s not in your estate plan. Your children could all wind up in court fighting over who gets this painting that you virtually forgot about.
The key, then, is to do comprehensive estate planning. Consider all potential disputes and look into all of your options to avoid them.