People sometimes ask me: What is the most difficult part of my job when advising clients on post death administration matters? Surprisingly, that often is the division of tangible personal property, or the “stuff” in the home.
Unlike cash or other financial assets which can typically be easily divided between the children, tangible items are much more difficult to divide. With only one piano or grandfather clock, who will receive those items when there are four children? Trustees and estate administrators struggle with how to divide up the items, especially if the decedent left no specific instructions regarding their distribution. In addition, the trustee is often struggling with their own grief and personal memories which are attached to some of the personal property items, and may find themselves having difficulties achieving an equitable division.
Jennifer Modenessi’s article Dividing Up a Life’s Worth of Memories (11 September 2011, Living Section) in the San Jose Mercury News discussed dividing up personal property following a parent’s passing and how difficult that process can be. I find that in my practice, older estate planning documents tend not to mention the division of the personal property while current estate plans will often contain some sort of direction particularly regarding certain items. When drafting estate plans, I do encourage clients to consider keeping a list which will indicate to whom certain items should be distributed.
However, for my administration clients, as there is typically little or no direction coming from the documents, I have to advise my clients to find a method which may work for them and their families to equitably divide up the personal items. There is no one solution that will work for everyone, however it remains in everyone’s best interest to work through the difficult task of dividing up the personal items, as the probate judge would prefer to keep these issues out of the courtroom!
* The information contained in this Blog is intended for general information and educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or an opinion of counsel.