How to Avoid Family Feuds: Appraise Your Clutter
There are two popular clichés about personal possessions as part of estates, and they both miss something important. The first is that, if you don’t specify in your will which personal items will go to which family member, they will fight bitterly over your possessions. By this logic, two sisters will never speak to each other again after a feud about which one gets to keep their deceased mother’s wedding ring. The second cliché, as a generation enamored of decluttering inherits their parents’ estates, is that your children will not want your personal possessions; in fact, they will care so little about them that they will just donate them to the thrift store without incident. The truth is worse than either of these scenarios. While it is true that your children probably will not want most of your personal property, your stuff can still cause a rift between your children after you are gone. Going through all the personal possessions of a recently deceased relative and deciding what to keep, sell, donate, or trash is a tremendously unpleasant and stressful task. The person who gets stuck doing it will end up resenting the ones who could have helped but didn’t. Think of it as part of your estate plan to deal with your clutter now, while you are alive and well. A skilled estate planning lawyer can help you with the financial and legal aspects of the process.
Why Clutter Is a Liability
Imagine that, when Mr. and Mrs. X die, their house in Tampa is full of stuff they have accumulated throughout their lives, in the form of purchases, gifts, and inheritance. Their wills contain no instructions about what to do with it, but the wills do specify that the home is to be sold and the proceeds divided among their children Alice, Beatrice, Conrad, and Drexel. Where Conrad and Drexel live and whether they have children hardly matters; the task of sorting through deceased parents’ clutter almost always falls to daughters. Alice lives in Fort Lauderdale with her two school-aged children. Beatrice lives in Jacksonville. Both daughters are married and have full-time jobs. You can probably guess what happens next. Alice says that she can’t travel to Tampa on the weekends to deal with Mom and Dad’s clutter because of her daughter’s soccer practices and her son’s debate tournaments.
Beatrice is in a no-win situation. She can spend her weekends traveling to Tampa to sort through her deceased parents’ clutter, or she can wait until the summer, when Alice will be available to help her with the task. In either case, they can’t sell the house, and the estate can’t settle, until the final decluttering is done. Meanwhile, Alice and Beatrice keep getting phone calls from their brothers, complaining about how, the longer they wait to sell the house, the less money they will get for it.
What to Do Instead
No one can blame you for dreading sorting through your clutter, but it will avoid an agonizing situation in the future. Have your children help if they are willing, or hire a professional declutterer. Then have your stuff appraised professionally; don’t rely on old appraisals, because the value of items changes. Ask your children, after the appraisal and perhaps also before, which items they want, and give them those items now. Then have your estate planning lawyer help you with the rest.
When Clutter Is the Problem, Estate Planning Is the Solution
Your stuff isn’t just stuff; it is part of your estate, and a Tampa estate planning lawyer can help you with it. Contact David Toback in Tampa, Florida to set up a consultation with an estate planning lawyer.