Texans preparing for the future have well-crafted estate plans, focused on assets that are obvious, like a home, financial accounts, vehicles and similar items. However, estate litigation often arises not over the big-ticket items, but also for personal property and items of sentimental value. To avoid a court battle and unwanted bickering, testators should consider distributing property in a way that will account for these pieces of property.
Sentimental value will inevitably vary based on how much a person wants the item and what it means to them. Having a trinket could spark a dispute between heirs that goes beyond what they would do for items of legitimate value for which there is a clear statement as to how it is divided. Some people who are making their estate plan might be advised to ask their heirs what items they want. While a verbal statement could seek to head off any disagreements, it might not be binding especially if more than one heir was told the item was going to him or her. Putting it in writing is wise.
For those who think that their heirs will evenly divide the items, this is a mistake. Thinking that heirs will have a clearheaded strategy when dispensing sentimental goods often fails in practice. Ownership vs. access is a factor. An example is a safe deposit box. An estate plan should clearly state who gets its contents independent of the person who might have access to it. Digital assets and unusual properties can be confusing. This too should be accounted for.
Complicated possessions can be problematic. For example, weapons that a testator is seeking to pass to an heir could be an issue if the state in which the heir lives has different gun laws than there are in Texas. Finally, testators might not realize that there could be family members who will simply try to walk into a property and take what they want regardless of the person's intentions and desires. Having the executor change the locks on the home can avoid this.
No one who is creating an estate plan is expecting estate litigation or any legal dispute when it comes down to distributing property. But it is an unfortunate reality that probate litigation can arise with a multitude of items including those of sentimental value. Having legal assistance with the estate plan or if there is a court battle is essential.
Source: cnbc.com, "7 ways that cheap Tweety Bird figurine can screw up your estate," Kelli B. Grant, Oct. 10, 2017