Drafting estate and trust documents can be fairly routine or may require some serious planning, but it is extremely helpful to the family and solves the issues for how to preserve and divide wealth and assets. But what about the things typically described as, “divide the remaining assets equally between the children”? Have any of you experienced this part either not going well at all, or at least having the executor or the trustee having trouble getting through the process logistically? Below are some tips you may want to share with your clients, or even include in letters of instruction to assist the executor when they are charged with doing something they typically have never done before:
1. Remember everyone processes grief differently, and peoples’ attachment to the value (emotional value) of things isn’t always a reflection of caring more or less about the lost loved one. Some people really want, or must have things they can touch, see, smell…. that help them remember a person by. Others may find those reminders hurt or interfere with how they want to, or can imagine moving forward. Don’t judge if it looks different than how you are feeling.
2. Some people want to get through things quickly to get to the other side, and some want to take their time and may feel rushing somehow dishonors the lost loved one. Both feelings can feel very legitimate. And what I would put forth here is that, they are both very legitimate and both approaches should be honored if possible, or at least acknowledged and empathized with. In any case, try to avoid judging.
3. Some heirs may want to have their spouses or their children helping them choose what they select. Of course, if they want input into what is wanted that makes sense, but for nearly all families, I highly recommend that ONLY the heir / siblings be present for any division process or in person selections. This is not just my experience but is found in nearly any book or guide on dividing. Sibling rivalries or tensions are hard enough to deal with in the face of loss; adding personalities and people perceived as “outside the direct family” participating in choices can create tensions and conflict easily avoided by keeping it as, only the heirs.
4. Some heirs when face to face, may alter their own selections based on whether they think another heir is interested in the item or not. I would suggest that ANY altering of a truly preferred choice, based on perceived desires of another sibling is a recipe for conflict. Of course, siblings with any rivalry may select an item as a “take away” from the other, actually then causing them to miss choosing something they truly wanted (so a double loss), and fanning the fires of conflict between those two. But what about the “pleaser sibling”, that always wants to keep everyone else happy? If he or she “passes on taking an item they want” so that another sibling can take it, it could be OK, but what if two years later they visit the sibling who did get it, and see it gathering dust in the garage? Now the pleaser may very well resent that they didn’t take it and feel anger toward the sibling they “let have it”, even though that sibling didn’t know or want them to acquiesce like that.
5. Things usually aren’t worth what you think, dollar value wise. The market the past ten years has greatly devalued antique, beautiful furniture, china, silver, collectibles, etc. This is in part due to so much on the market as people live longer, the vast accumulations of the 80s, and the changing tastes of next generations toward more simple or functional furniture and even smaller houses. Most “antiques” sell now as just old brown furniture. What an item was bought for, also has little to do with what it can sell for now. Appraisals for insurance purposes reflect values typically only gotten if there is a fire or they are stolen. Trying to actually sell things for those values may easily yield half or less. Even when appraisals or fair market values are provided as “estate sale” estimates, what the estate would have to pay to an estate sales company or consignment gallery etc. means discounting those values by half is more realistic, as it reflects the “cost of selling”. That net expected value is the fairer way for the family to reconcile any value difference between who got what. Why should family members be charged or receive more from the heirs than the estate could net if everything was just sold?
Practically speaking, in many estates, most of the things are not wanted by anyone. However, the executor or person charged with settling the estate must confirm what is wanted with the family members before things can be sold or donated. In today’s world those heirs usually are in peak career years and likely do not live near the parents, so communicating what is available with all can be difficult. FairSplit.com offers totally free online accounts specifically set up to upload photos, appraisals, list what is available and privately share with families, allowing easy, uniform transparency between all heirs. If a process is needed to divide, or if the family wants help listing and valuing the personal property, FairSplit also offers those services.
David MacMahan is founder of FairSplit.com, “Divide Things, Not Families”. He spent five years researching dividing personal property and tangible assets between heirs, as the FairSplit software platform was built and has now helped thousands of families divide their estates with the web-based system to catalog, share and divide personal property online. FairSplit does this efficiently and fairly through a system of blind, online rounds; Interested or not? Who Wants it Most? Bidding emotional points, and finally ranking top to bottom choices, alternating selection rounds similar to a sports draft. Find out more at www.FairSplit.com or email David directly at [email protected].