Whether it’s the rocking chair, baseball from a World Series game, 1962 Corvette, sewing machine, framed print, salt and pepper shakers, vase or other items not specifically listed in the will, distributing these items during an already stressful time can cause the family much angst and ill-will.
According to statistics, 40 to 60 percent of Americans do not have a will. The will creation process is often trying and once the will has completed a weight is lifted. But even the best wills do not address all of the items that are meaningful to some family members. They usually have a clause that says everything else will be divided equally among the children. This statement can be problematic. Many states allow a will to contain a ‘letter of instruction’ or ‘memorandum’ to leave ‘tangible personal property’ via the will. It is a detailed list of items and the recipient of each. The list must be signed and dated by the testator.
The value of items (sentimental and monetary) is in the eyes of the beholder. Too often more than one person wants a specific item that is not listed in the will. Sometimes it is ‘quality, not quantity’ that counts. Some children want just one or two items of great meaning to them and are happy to have other family members get more items as long as they get the few they cherish.
To have the least amount of stress at a difficult time, it is in the family’s best interest to have a fair and easy process to distribute all items not listed in the will. Parents don’t always know what each family member wants. It is often best to ask family members ahead of time. For items wanted by more than one person, a process can be used. Sometimes parents want a specific item to go to an individual. Items such as photos can now be duplicated with the quality of the original so all who want them have them. Items that have monetary value should be appraised so that family members feel their ‘share’ is equitable.
How to do this:
There are various methods. Whatever the method, it is important the family ‘buy-into’ it. Children must agree not to argue as that is hurtful to the parent. Items need to be inventoried and grouped. All methods require time and effort. A spreadsheet or program is an ideal tool. One is the book and workbook entitled: Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate? And, there is an online program Fairsplit. Below is one of the easier processes I have seen, there are many variations.
The parent may want to ask the family to write down five items of monetary value and five items of sentimental value. If there are no overlaps or major differences, those items can be placed on the list under their name. If there are items wanted by more than one, those children can negotiate. Next, each family member gets a color and adhesive dots to match. Each person then places their dots on the items of their choice. Any item with only one dot can be placed on the list under their name. If there are items with only two dots, those children can negotiate. If there are no arguments, items with more than two dots can be negotiated.
A fun way to manage the distribution of the other items is to use play money or poker chips. Each person receives a certain amount and can bid on items. This process enables them to decide which items are most important to them and which are not. The bidding order can be determined by rolling the dice or drawing straws. Bidding order can be revised every round. When all money is used, additional money can be given.
Once the process is completed, leftover items need a place. The parent or the family can decide which charity(s) receive those items.