It is not surprising that only 42% of adults in the U.S. have a documented estate plan. It is easy to put estate planning off until tomorrow rather than confront the uncomfortable truth that we will some day die, and face the difficult decisions that are best made in advance of that day. One of the harsher realities of today – one that was not necessarily true for the generations before us – is that family heirlooms are not always the precious treasures they once were. Today, chances are your stuff is just stuff.
The younger generations are inheriting items that, while certainly antiquated, are not the unique hand-made items that were once passed down from family to family. Antique dealers are finding little market for the outdated, mass-produced items collected by boomers and their parents. As a result, the furnishings and personal items you have accumulated over the years likely have little monetary value. And let’s face it – your children (and even more so, your grandchildren) probably do not want them. Most young people starting out today want to pick out their own things, and they are less likely to want to store or collect items just for their sentimental value. This is in part because of the mobility of today’s generations. Young families are likely to pack up and move across the country, and they are unlikely to want to drag boxes of old china with them.
That is not to say that your children will not want anything you own. Take the time now to tell your family the stories behind items that are special to you. Talk to your family about items that do have special significance to them, and try to make decisions and offer explanations as to whom you want to have certain items. Some of your personal items will carry sentimental value. If they do, consider giving those items away during your lifetime. Not only will you get to see the look on your children’s faces when they receive the gifts, you will reduce the risk that your children will fight over items after your death. Too often, the actual value of an estate is depleted because heirs or beneficiaries fight over items that are of little monetary worth.
So what do you to avoid bogging your children down with a house full of furnishings and knick-knacks they do not want?
Downsize as you age. Ask your children and grandchildren what items they actually want. Ideally, you will give those items away while you are still alive. If you absolutely must hang on to them, use a personal property memorandum in conjunction with your Will or trust and be very specific about who is to receive each item. For the things your family does not want, figure out which items have value and which do not. Get appraisals for jewelry and antiques, and give yourself time to find buyers for those items that are worth something. For the rest of the items, have a yard sale and donate any items you do not sell.
Having a plan for your personal property is one of the easiest ways to avoid conflict and expensive litigation over items after your death. Confronting the harsh realities of inheritance and working with an estate planning attorney to create a personalized plan will ultimately maximize the value of your estate and ease the burden on your family.