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A Better Partnership


Dec 2017
December 12, 2017

How Planning for the Division of Personal Property May Prevent Family Disputes

“Money is easy to divide. Stuff isn’t.” This is a common refrain from estate planning attorneys who have seen their share of disputes involving a decedent’s personal belongings. Personal property includes items like household furnishings, art, photographs, books, jewelry, tools, boats and vehicles.

Unfortunately, many of these cases end up costing the estate far more than the disputed items are worth. The wooden spoon that mom always used to make her famous pumpkin pie, perhaps worth $5.00 at best, is now being fought over by three children and costing the estate thousands. 

What begins the dispute? “Mom always told me I could have....” Without a written direction, those “promises” are unenforceable. Fortunately, Michigan allows for a legal disposition of tangible personal property with two very simple requirements: 
  1. You must put in your own handwriting what items will go to whom, or you must sign a document which describes the distribution of property; and
  2. The writing’s existence must be referenced in your will.  

We have included a sample personal property listing document in this newsletter edition. The items can be described any way you wish, as long as they are identifiable by the individual handling your estate. Once completed, the original should be filed with your will. As with all estate planning documents, this listing should be updated regularly. 

Other considerations:

Are there items on your list that have significant value? If so, should there be an offset to the other beneficiaries for this value?

How is the remainder of your personal property to be handled? Here are a few ways to handle the division of the remaining personal property:
  • Allow family members to take turns selecting items;
  • Allow family members to “bid” on items; or
  • Draw straws.

If there are items you want a particular person to have, or that you have agreed to leave someone, prepare a list. Ask your children if they would like anything specific. If you, as a child or other heir, desire an item for sentimental or other reasons, be sure to speak up! Even though the conversation may seem difficult, it can eliminate headaches, heartaches and expenses. 

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