When it comes to estate planning, families often focus on the transfer of financial assets, but it is more often personal possessions that become issues and block an amicable settling of an estate. It's not about monetary value, but sentimental value; such as, who gets Mom's Christmas cookie jar.
An appraiser that was called in to value the personal possessions of an estate recalled siblings that fought bitterly over a painting in their mother's home. The appraiser said, "This is not worth more than $20.00, and if you let me out of here, I'll pay the $20.00.”
First of all, try and assure that personal possessions will be under the control of a trustworthy individual; as sometimes things "disappear" from a trust/estate. Most people make verbal promises about items or leave the general instruction in a will or trust asking the executor or successor trustee to divide the items equally. This can put strain on the relationship of the executor or successor trustee and the other beneficiaries of which he/she may be included.
The best way to avoid a dispute that can cause irreparable damage to a family is to discuss the division of personal property with your heirs prior to designating who is to receive what. It may be that a special memento means more to one beneficiary than another. Also, most parents want to be fair, but some gifts may be of higher value than others, so maybe the person receiving the higher value possession receives less of the other assets. There are many ways to avoid disputes:
If all else fails, hire a mediator.
Not all families are prone to disputes over personal possessions. An executor can often smoothly disperse personal possessions. However, if your family has any of the following situations, you have a higher risk of dispute:
A little planning and care taken during one’s life can prevent disputes and make sure the family remains a family.