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Estate Planning: Sifting Trash to Find Treasure

Estate planning includes accounting for the "small stuff"

Start Sweating the Small Stuff

You’ve amassed more than just money in your lifetime. You’ve got stuff. Lots of stuff. Some would say a treasure trove full of stuff… You consider it junk. A yard sale’s been in order for years. You’re getting older though. Getting rid of your stuff is not only impractical, you don’t necessarily want to part with your high-school prom dress. Oh, well, you’ll just let your kids figure it out when you die. As the saying goes, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Even though your estate planning documentation spells out who gets the house and bank accounts, you may need to delve further. Family feuds are more likely to erupt over treasured personal possessions than over money after a loved one dies. Who gets the grandfather clock? What about the family photo albums? Your Mom’s wedding dress? Dad’s coin collection..? Failing to include the “small stuff” in your estate planning scheme leads to family squabbles for several reasons. Personal items by their very nature cannot be distributed equally to more than one heir. Money and bank accounts, on the other hand, is easily distributed amongst heirs. There’s an emotional aspect too. People have far more emotional attachment to personal items than money.

Don’t just leave it to your “word.” Oral affirmations by Mom or Dad regarding how they want their wedding ring and gun collection to be distributed is not enough. An estate planning scheme based on a “he said she said” scenario is a recipe for hurt feelings, family feuds and difficulty in carrying-out your estate planning wishes. Fortunately, there’s a way to include your treasured goods as part of your comprehensive estate planning package through the use of a holographic codicil to your will. The estate planning rules provide that a a holographic codicil must be:

  1. Signed and dated after the date of the creation of your will;
  2. In your own handwriting;
  3. On blank paper;
  4. Without use of witness(es); and
  5. Without notary acknowledgement;

Practical Considerations of Estate Planning Scheme

Estate planning includes deciding who gets what from the piano to your favorite jewelryDetermine What’s Important

Before following the estate planning rules for creating your holographic codicil, you need to determine what personal property items have monetary and/or sentimental value. Of course, it’s impossible to make provisions in your estate planning docs for every piece of furniture, jewelry, and other personal items you possess. You should, however, itemize the goods that mean the most to you and make sure your estate planning documentation accurately reflects who gets what. Start this process by thinking about your most cherished belongings and what you hope to accomplish by bequesting them. Of course, what you think will be meaningful to family members and friends may be very different. You can clear-up any uncertainty by simply asking your potential heirs about what items they may want.

Devise a Fair System

The hard part of creating an estate planning package is determining who gets what. The key is to connect the goals you have for your bequests with what’s fair in the context of your family. Should superiority control (i.e. older gets first dibs)? What about talent and skill? Should your son, the only musician in the family, get the expensive grand piano? It’s important to remember that you can be fair without being equal when making bequests. It’s not all about the numbers.

Relay your Wishes & Location of Estate Plan Docs

Let your loved ones know your intentions and where you keep all of your estate planning docs. While your heirs may not like or agree with your decisions, at least they’ll know that these are your wishes and will understand the motivation behind them.

About Sean Hanley

Practicing law since 2007, Sean specializes in the ever-changing laws related to real estate, business and estate planning. Embracing technology with a focus on personalized service, he understands the challenges of living and thriving in Silicon Valley. Tapping into his education in economics and business administration, Sean also serves on the non-profit Willow Glen Business Association.

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