Dividing tangible personal property is a task that often causes problems for a personal representative and between heirs.
A will typically directs that property with monetary value is to be sold and the proceeds deposited into the estate account.
But what happens when the property has no real value but the sentimental value is priceless?
Here are some possible solutions that may help mitigate potential problems:
♦ Plan ahead and make a list within your will that identifies the item and recipient. This is unambiguous and clearly expresses your wishes.
♦ Consider assigning a number to all items and draw them from a jar (if you are acting as a personal representative).
♦ Use color-coded stickers to designate what items will go to whom. The item with the appropriate sticker will go to the “owner” of that color. If an item has multiple stickers from many hopeful recipients, begin a discussion about who gets the item. The story explaining why someone is attached to a particular item may help with the grieving process. If it cannot be resolved, put all the names in a hat and conduct a random drawing.
♦ Hiring an unbiased, outside, professional third-party to help decide how to divide the property, manage communication and resolve conflicts may be a final strategy. For example, a mediator helps parties negotiate a settlement that will satisfy all the parties. (Keep in mind that a mediator does not decide a dispute.)
It is always best to plan ahead. But if that is not possible, develop a strategy for dividing items that everyone agrees on. This can be a positive experience with planning and strategy.