When an elderly gentleman in the Midwest went to draft his estate plan, he had no problems setting up his will to divide his measurable wealth equally among his five grown children. His financial assets and real estate holdings would be relatively easy to convert and distribute, but there were many sensitive issues and problems with his personal “stuff.”
Specifically, his two sons both wanted to inherit the classic Lionel train set and old baseball cards their father had bought in the 1950s, while the man’s three daughters all wanted to lay claim to a large, ornate wooden dollhouse their grandfather had built fifty years earlier. There also were many other family mementos which held varying degrees of sentimental value for the children.
Conversely, there also were boxes and piles of their father’s possessions that nobody really cared about, such as framed group photos of coworkers throughout his career and stacks of old, uninteresting trade magazines. The children had no desire to inherit any of those essentially worthless things, although members of the family would likely be expected to dispose of them eventually.
Assessing your ownership philosophy
For the past few years, millions of people around the world have discovered the work of best-selling author Marie Kondo, a specialist in organization, whose books include “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” Through her writings and television appearances, Kondo preaches the benefits of decluttering your space and getting rid of any possessions that don’t serve a specific purpose or “spark joy.”
That attitude is subject to many different interpretations, especially among people who are bona fide collectors – not to be confused with those who are obsessive-compulsive hoarders. It has been said that every human, somewhere in the recesses of their psyches, has an inherent need to gather and accumulate things, whether the category is books, hand-crafted models, stuffed animals, postcards, or countless other pursuits, most of which are enjoyable and harmless.
But Ms. Kondo believes such behavior is detrimental and potentially toxic to a person’s spirit. One of her popular quotes is, “There are three approaches we can take toward our possessions: face them now, face them sometime, or avoid them until the day we die.”
What do you want to happen to the things you have collected and cherished throughout your lifetime? That question leads to the subject of estate planning.
The importance of an estate plan
In simple terms, an estate plan is the formal process of determining and legally recording what will happen to your possessions when the inevitable time comes to transfer or disperse them. Typically, that occurs upon your death, but it also can refer to a debilitating health care issue. A will is one key aspect of an estate plan, but there is much more to it.
A comprehensive estate plan can designate, item by item, which family members, friends, or other recipients will inherit your valued assets. But however you prefer to distribute the items, you need to make your decisions known in advance, and legally documented. In those respects, the main purpose of an estate plan is to make sure the right people eventually receive your property, according to your exact wishes.
With all due respect to Marie Kondo, it will be comforting to know that your family and friends will want to keep the special items which have meant so much to you over the years.
Let a qualified estate planning attorney guide you
Without effective inheritance planning, your assets — including your home, investments, savings, etc. — can end up in probate court. In the probate process, a judge appoints an executor to administer your estate, based on assumptions of how you would have wanted to distribute your property. Probate fights can take many months, or even years if multiple heirs have claims on your estate.
Regardless of your assets or income level, it is critical to have a solid estate plan in place. By designating which of your possessions will be passed on your loved ones — ideally with their knowledge and cooperation beforehand — you will avoid the pain and cost of a probate fight or lawsuits when the time comes.
The experienced elder law attorneys at Cordell Planning Partners provide affordable smart solutions for estate plans, wills, trusts, Power of Attorney documents, and other safeguards for your assets.
Cordell Planning Partners also offers free educational workshops where we explain the various asset-protection programs, all in terms that are easy to understand.
To learn more, contact us. You also can receive a free one-hour estate plan analysis to discuss your existing estate plan.